Canadian Plastics

Recycled material must be right the first time

"Recycled content is not a selling point anymore," says Jean-Luc Lavergne, president of Groupe Lavergne. "We have to prove to the molder and the specifier that the material is good and that we can fin...

October 1, 1999   Canadian Plastics



“Recycled content is not a selling point anymore,” says Jean-Luc Lavergne, president of Groupe Lavergne. “We have to prove to the molder and the specifier that the material is good and that we can find solutions to their needs.”

“We want to make sure that our product is competitive and that there is an advantage to it. The idea is to make a product that fits the buyer’s specifications. In doing so, we generally manage to achieve a 15 to 20 percent cost savings over virgin material.”

Sounds like these materials should sell themselves, right? Apparently, there’s still some resistance to buying recycled.

“We are breaking down the negative image of recycled materials by making sure we have lot to lot consistency,” says Lavergne. “The image is changing. Molders and people working with us are more confident now that the industry can make recycled material well.”

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“One difference is that now the product needs to be right from the start. Previously, users had patience and were willing to test various materials. There are no second chances today.”

Lavergne is one of the long-term survivors in an industry where companies come and go with discouraging frequency. According to Lavergne, the number of PET recyclers in North America has dropped to eight from 32, but on the flip side, three new competitors are starting up in commodity resin recycling.

He attributes his company’s success to the use of up-to-date technology to achieve and maintain consistent quality, and to keep prices below or comparable to virgin materials.

CHALLENGING AUTOMOTIVE PRECONCEPTIONS

Groupe Lavergne has targeted the automotive market with the creation of Novoplas, and put support in place to make sure it can service this demanding market. The Novoplas division focuses on engineering resin compounds from blends of post-consumer PET with polycarbonate, polyethylene and other resins using in-situ compatibilization by reactive extrusion. An ex-General Motors man has taken up the sales challenge in Detroit, and the company plans to be QS-9000 registered by year-end.

Florin Tofan, vice-president technology at Lavergne, is seeing progress in this market. “Automotive OEMs had a tendency to build a set of specifications around a material they had in mind. Now they are waking up and looking more at the performance required from the part.”

Some of the more high-profile uses for Groupe Lavergne’s compounds have been the rear shelf of the Cadillac Seville, a headlamp retainer of glass-filled PET and TPO body side moldings.

PET PRODUCTS CONTINUE GROWTH

Groupe Lavergne is also directing considerable effort to its PET recycling business, PETCO. The recycled material is formed into sheet and sold. A new PET sheet line has been ordered which will increase capacity by 30 percent at the Montreal PETCO facility, and permit more emphasis on high-quality sheet production. The sheet is often sold as an alternative to PVC film.

“It is basically no different than virgin PET sheet, in either clarity or mechanical properties,” says Tofan. In fact, adds Lavergne, “we hope to have non-objection status from the U.S. FDA by the end of the year. Effectively, this will recognize that the sheet is free of any contamination.”

“The fact that we are able to use waste as our raw material and generate consistent quality end-products has a lot to do with the logistics of the way we segregate and test incoming materials. It is a combination of our chemistry, our equipment and the way the material is handled,” explains Tofan.

Tofan says Groupe Lavergne is putting a lot of development effort into a process called homomicronization for post-consumer plastics. The process would assist with compatibilizing dissimilar materials, such as mixed plastics from curbside collection, into a homogenous moldable resin. CPL


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