Field Study and Service-Learning MediaBlog

29 April, 2007

San José: Producol Recycled Plastic Company

 Rejected Products
When making the wood there are sometimes rejects such as these. The most common problems are the temperature not being quite right. Only about 10% turn out unusable like these ones, but, never fear because they can actually be reused (again). With the average monthly input of plastic around 16 metric tons, the eventual products weigh out to around 13 tons. All the work done by Producol is through contract bids, which allows the company to make product based on orders as opposed to having a lot of plastic wood stored for an indefinite amount of time on site. This also helps keep costs down as they can schedule the number of workers needed accordingly. The rejected pieces are stored on site until they can be sent back to be re-processed by a 'molina'.

  Miguel´s Wood Plank
This is Miguel holding up a piece of prepared plastic wood, and no, he is not about to hit any of his students (yet)! If you look closely you can see the pre-made holes. However, they are not just single holes drilled into the plastic! To avoid splitting the wood when attaching with screws, it is imperative to make an indentation with a special drill. You can see this a little better close up. When they sell the product it already has the special holes drilled into the wood. If a piece breaks, Producol actually takes it back. They then cut off & dispose of the ends of the plank with the screws & either re-use the smaller piece for another product (such as a trash can), or send it back to the 'molina' for re-use.

Chop that wood?
In this photo the workers are cutting off the extra plastic while the post is still hot in the mold. The process: Use gallon buckets to feed plastic in the machine, add the chemicals to mix the plastics together and heat, then the machine pushes the plastic into the mold. The workers know when the mold is full because plastic begins to melt out the opposite end of the mold. The excess is cut off from both ends, and then the mold is put into the water to cool, the product then shrinks a little and can be removed from the mold. Once removed from the mold the product must cool more, I could feel the heat on my foot radiating off as I took this picture!

Yikes, left over!
This is Nicole, and she is holding up a couple pieces of extra plastic wood! There will always be some extra plastic after production either from production itself (trimming the molded pieces or trimming pieces down to size), or rejected or broken pieces. Producol even will repair broken pieces that have left the building! All that plastic piled up must be good for something, so Don Jamie works with the 'molinas' and is actually able to send all this extra plastic back to be re-chopped and shipped back in his special mixtures, and as it turns out the mixtures of plastic with the plastic wood in them tend to make a better product.

Producol Office: Plastic Wood in Action!
This is the office of the owner of Producol Maderas Plasticas. His name is Don Jamie. He started this business five years ago when he couldn’t get a permit for construction. He got the idea of plastic wood from someone in his family back in Columbia. Currently there are only four countries that make plastic wood, and there are two others here in Costa Rica. Don Jamie works with another company here so that they do not compete in the same market, the other company only makes shingles and the two work together to make a couple of other things, including wheelbarrows. Producol mostly makes shipping crates, fence posts and two by four lumbers, but they also make garbage cans, benches, picnic tables, feeders for animals, and swing-sets! The product costs a little more than regular wood, but the company guarantees the crates to last 5 years where wood only lasts 1.5 years. The plastic wood is much stronger than regular wood and a structure holds all the fabricated wood until it is shipped out. To make the wood stronger they use more plastic number 5, and to make it look nicer polyethylene.

All that Plastic
Maderas Plasticas receives about 25 metric tons of plastic each month in hopes of using 16-17 tons and produces about 13 tons of plastic wood products each month. The company works with other facilities that clean & prepare the plastic ahead of time ('molinas'). The process is basically sorting the different types of plastic and cutting the pieces down so they are very small. You can see how small each piece is as it falls like confetti before Chris! Because of strong working relationships between the molinas and Producol, Producol is able to request mixtures of the plastic types that are most beneficial for making plastic wood. You can see the special mixture as a worker scoops it out by the gallon bucketful and our group is gathered around the large bag. About four buckets are used for fence posts and 1.5 buckets are used to make wood planks. Normally it is not possible to use a mixture of plastics together, but Producol adds a chemical for better mixing.

Author: Danielle Sunde