Scrap to Gold

Return Polymers, Inc.

9. Industry, Innovation and Infrastructure 11. Sustainable Cities and Communities 12. Responsible Consumption and Production 15. Life on Land

Overview

The company grinds up unused or scrapped PVC (windows, pipe, etc.) to sell recycled product to customers with quality specifications. Recycled Polymers is equipped to manage all styles and sizes of PVC scrap by sorting, identification, grinding, shredding, demetallization, fines reduction, compounding, pulverizing, optical sortation, and large lot blending.

Authors

Jason Jamil

Jason Jamil

Kyle Nimon

Kyle Nimon

Michael Ahner

Michael Ahner

School

Case Western Reserve University - Weatherhead School of Management

Case Western Reserve University - Weatherhead School of Management

Professor

Scot Lowry

Scot Lowry

Innovation

A key innovation is Return Polymer's optical sorter. The unique equipment will sort out product during production that is not within specific color tolerances. This allows the company to charge a premium based on the precise nature of the customer's color specifications.

The business concept was discovered when a customer cross contamined 18 railcars with black pellets in PVC resin. The customer had to sift out the pellets railcar by railcar until all of the black pellets were removed. The customer asked if Return Polymers would be willing to conduct this search again if the issue arose. This led to the start of the business.

Return Polymers saw that there was a need for more “white” in the PVC market, so they invested in an optical sorter. They knew that not all white is white; there are many different shades. Dave Foell , the CEO, knew there was a need for more white in the marketplace and trialed three different vendors that had optical sorter technology. He narrowed the decision down to two companies. In order to choose between the two, Dave sent material with a specific weight of off color mixed in. Satake, a USA based company in Houston, had the best trial result.

The innovation allows companies to use recycled material for more products that they might not have been able to in the past. For example vinyl siding is made from recycled PVC but the outer layer is typically new PVC because it needs to be a certain color. This allows the outer layer to be made from recycled material as well. The innovation leads to an increase in recycling potential.

“In the public, 90% of PVC fences/ windows are made of recycled material. Only the outer layer is virgin material.” - Dave Foell - CEO

“We are able to sell a white product for a significant premium over different products that don't have specifications.” - Dave Foell - CEO

“We are currently number 2 in the market due to another competitor dealing with bulk handling of railcars.” - Dave Foell - CEO

Scrap to Gold

Inspiration

Customers asked business owners if they could do *this other thing* which eventually led them down the path of figuring out how to make certain colors. This particular innovation allows Return Polymers to charge a premium for certain colors.

Dave showed us a key ring full of different “white” colors to give us an idea of the variation within the industry. He talked about optical sorters being used for rice production to make sure only good rice (rice of a certain color) made it through the sorting process.

The management team has a true passion for the PVC business and has over 50 years of PVC specific industry expertise. The expertise ranged from technology start-ups, distribution / sales, light manufacturing to large multi-national corporations.

Overall impact

A key impact of the optical sorter is to be able to sell white (or certain color) product at a significant premium than other products. As mentioned earlier, this leads to additional recycling opportunities. The short term business strategy provides premium pricing, and the long term business strategy also provides premium pricing plus additional proprietary innovations built from this idea.

From a business standpoint, the business has grown significantly since this innovation has been put into place. Furthermore, businesses are willing to pay a premium for this product, indicating a creation of value.

“In the last 25 years, we were able to produce 750 MM lbs of recycled PVC thus avoiding landfill.” - Dave Foell - CEO

Business benefit

The innovation benefits the business because it allows the business to produce higher margin products (white) which are more sought after in the PVC market.

Return Polymers focus on quality, engineering, design, and industry know-how, allow the company not only to continue to expand in Northeast Ohio, but also to reduce shipping costs by expanding to locations closer to their customers out of state.

Social and environmental benefit

It benefits society / environment because businesses can buy this recycled white (or any color) and use it in situations which were not previously using recycled material. Return Polymer also keeps the normally considered waste material out of landfills through their recycling process.

Return Polymers is a company that you can trust. Return Polymers features third party accreditation for recycle content and is GreenCircle certified. Clients seek these 100% PVC recycle certifications in support of USGBC Leed rating product / facility programs.

Interviews

Dave Foell, CEO/Owner

Dave Foell, CEO/Owner

Kevin Maggioli, Project Manager

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Return Polymers, Inc.

Return Polymers, Inc.

Ashland, OH, US

Business Website: https://www.returnpolymers.com/

Year Founded: 1993

Number of Employees: 51 to 200

Return Polymers is a leader in the development, implementation, and delivery of recycled PVC compound solutions for supplier and client partners alike. Return Polymers has been in business for the last 25+ years over which time the company has been able to successfully recycle over 750 million pounds of PVC that would have normally made its way to landfill. The company is motivated by their tenants of safety, quality, integrity, and customer.