Portsmouth firms transform companies’ trash into opportunity

When the pallets are unloaded at Redhook Ale Brewery in Portsmouth, all that PET packaging strap used to hold boxes of bottles no longer ends up in the dumpster.The green and black polyester strapping now gets chopped up, picked up and transported 1.3 miles south to the headquarters of Poly Recovery, a plastics recycler that has made its home in the Pease International Tradeport.Once it has passed through Poly Recovery’s proprietary recycling process, the plastic resin that emerges is transported again, this time 11.7 miles south to Foss Manufacturing in Hampton.There, polyester fibers are extruded from the resin and used to make such products as linings for automobile trunks and indoor and outdoor carpeting.This 13-mile supply chain is one of the most efficient examples of Poly Recovery’s “100-Mile Model,” which guarantees that all material that comes in and out of its facility is bought and sold within a 100-mile radius of its Portsmouth headquarters.”The big thing is we take 100 percent of the waste and keep it cradle to grave,” said John Pelech, founder and owner of Poly Recovery. “We process the plastic material, and when it’s end-user ready, we sell it to end users within 100 miles.”Foss acquires about 60,000 pounds of resin from Poly Recovery a month. That’s only about 5 or 10 percent of the amount of resin it purchases, but the firm is wholly willing to buy more as Poly Recovery expands its operations, said Dave Rowell, executive vice president of sales at Foss.In the last four months alone, Foss has probably tripled the size of its buy from Poly Recovery, said Rowell.”It’s a pretty neat thing that our friends up here in Portsmouth, New Hampshire, are acquiring waste that normally goes to a landfill, are recovering it, creating it into a raw material source, and their neighbor here in Hampton can buy the resin, melt it into fibers, and make fabrics,” said Rowell.100-mile radiusPelech is among a growing cadre of entrepreneurs who are capitalizing on giving a second life to the stuff that would otherwise pad a landfill, driven as much by profit margins as environmental consciousness.Keeping clients cognizant of their impact is the philosophy behind the 100-Mile Model, which operates on the notion that waste generated locally should be dealt with locally — not shipped out of sight or overseas and ignored.”Why give it away? We made the waste,” said Pelech. “Let’s keep it in our area so we can benefit in a sustainable manner environmentally, and benefit economically and socially.”Pelech said the company works with more than 100 small businesses within its 100-mile radius, which stretches down as south as Rhode Island and extends west to nearly touch the Vermont border.His clients include eight of 10 of the largest manufacturers in New England, which make everything from flower pots to surgical tubing to board games, said Pelech.Using a proprietary machining process, Poly Recovery makes recycled materials that he said are able to compete with virgin resin.”What we find from these companies, half the time these people throw things away, they’re throwing cash in the trash,” said Pelech. “We take all kinds of things that people just throw away.”The company’s 100-mile guarantee attracted Redhook to Poly Recovery, said Joe Thorner, director of operations at the brewery, which sells tens of thousands of pounds of material a month to Poly Recovery — everything from keg caps to plastic bags to cardboard.”Poly Recovery audits what we do, and they keep finding more things we generate to recycle,” said Thorner. “They look at everything as an opportunity.”But while knowing that all its materials would be consumed less than 100 miles away was the selling point, the other benefit for Redhook has been in generating less waste — and paying less to have it hauled away, he said.”That’s the other beauty that we’re doing with this whole process,” he said. “We generate some revenue, but the real savings is in not having the dumpster.”‘Triple bottom line’Redhook also works with the composting company EcoMovement, a Portsmouth company whose philosophy is very much aligned with that of Poly Recovery.EcoMovement, founded in 2009, “basically started out of the necessity of needing to educate people about their impact,” said founder Rian Bedard. While working as a restaurant expert with the Green Alliance, Bedard said he had heard from many restaurants interested in composting their organic waste.”I started trying to find a hauler that would work with me to get this going and nobody would even humor me. (I’d tell them) ‘I’ve got four, five businesses interested in doing it — you guys just drop the container,’ but I just kept getting that answer,” he said.”They don’t have the same thought process. It’s about getting things from point A to point B in the quickest time — there’s not that community feel, there’s not that awareness.”So he decided to do it himself, starting small with a pickup truck, trailer and a pilot agreement with a few local restaurants.From there, the company grew with the help of some prominent local businesspeople who, in the spirit of the Slow Money movement, made loans to Bedard to expand his operations.”I’ve never used a bank once in the growth of our company,” said Bedard, who received loans from Peter Egelston, owner of Smuttynose Brewing Company and the Portsmouth Brewery, Penny Brewster, owner of Ceres Bakery, and Jay McSharry, who owns Jumpin’ Jay’s Fish Café, Dos Amigos Burritos and The Red Door.”These business owners were in the same position I was in years prior,” said Bedard. “Not only was I servicing them, but they really supported what I was doing for the local community.”The loans helped Bedard bankroll a website and buy a new truck, which helped him to grow the company to about 30 clients in its first year.Today, EcoMovement has about double that number and recently rolled out a residential composting program in which residents pay $6 a week for a lined container for their organic waste, and they get compost back if they want it.At the start of the year, EcoMovement began managing its own composting facility in Farmington, where everything from banana peels to paper products are processed and turned into soil.The company has started collecting organic waste at some schools in the state, which includes going into classrooms to educate kids on how and why to compost.”We need to have these kids growing up with it as part of their second nature,” said Bedard. “It’s the triple bottom line — people, planet, profits — so these kids grow up valuing the ecosystem around them.”Both Pelech and Bedard have eyed expansion, although on different scales. EcoMovement is looking at potentially expanding to other regions within the state, while Poly’s outlook is a bit grander — perhaps out of necessity — since another facility within 100 miles would be redundant.If there were a Poly Recovery facility every 200 miles, the amount of waste that could be diverted from landfills is mind-boggling, said Pelech.”Where your trash goes is an extension and a strong representation of who you are as a company,” said Pelech.