By Brian Lund
Change takes time, but once it gathers momentum, there’s not stopping it. Nearly two decades ago, inventor Paul Schmitt developed a technology that turns plastic and glass into plastic composites with remarkable properties. For years, he perfected his technology in a lab in Red Wing, but wasn’t able to produce usable amounts of the composite until a year and a half ago. That’s when his company, Envirolastech Inc., broke ground on a production facility in St. Charles. The company, which employs 22 people total, is already considering an expansion.
In the last year of production, Envirolastech has diverted more than 750,000 pounds of plastics and about one million pounds of glass from the waste stream. That waste was turned into deck planks, siding, and pavers.
Now Envirolastech is branching out into exciting new frontiers, with things like sustainable pallets.
Pallets are generally thought of as a one-and-done item, but not ones made by Envirolastech. Where standard wood pallets cost between $10 and $50 and are only reusable to DIYers or crafters, Envirolastech’s pallets cost between $100 and $200, but can be reused indefinitely.
The reusable pallets are superior to the common wooden variety in a number of ways. The plastic used is stronger than anything on the market, except for aluminum and steel, and they’re able to be sterilized, which eliminates the bacteria that lives in traditional, wooden pallets.
Since the resulting composite does not use sawdust or any other kind of wood or biodegradable fill, bugs won’t eat them, and they’re not water soluble. Therefore, Envirolastech products can maintain their shape, strength, and utility for years into the future. They don’t warp, rot, or mold in heat. They don’t crack in the cold.
“We’ve got a lot of interest nationwide from a lot of the big players in the trucking industry and in the food and beverage industry,” said Geno Wente, chief operations officer at Envirolastech.
To continue production, Envirolastech has teamed up with Wabasha County trash service and the Mayo Clinic Recycling Center.
“We’re currently receiving material from Mayo Clinic that we use in our process. They bring us down their glass and a couple different types of plastics that we’re able to grind up and re-formulate into our products,” said Wente. “Right now, we get most of our plastics from Harder Sanitation in LaCrosse because they have the Winona County recycling contract. We’re literally taking the milk jugs and those kind of things … that get recycled in Winona County, where we’re located, and turning them back into building products.”
Envirolastech bricks have been tested and performed well when compared to concrete. Concrete bricks usually show damage around 3,500 PSI. Envirolastech bricks have been tested up to 10,000 PSI without damage.
Envirolastech is so confident in the superior durability of their products that they offer a 75-year warranty, though their lifetimes could extend far beyond that.
If the application of Schmitt’s technology takes off, it could change the recycling landscape of the world. The composite is more or less eternally recyclable, meaning less plastic in landfills. Once the product has run its course, it can be reprocessed as a raw material. It must be ground up into flakes first, but can be turned back into another Envirolastech product.
The trick, he says, is to turn on the public’s interest. That’s why Envirolastech has worked to diversify their offerings. The more product they sell, the bigger dent they make in reducing waste.
“It’s exciting. I’ve been in the waste industry for over 20 years,” said Wente. “I’ve seen where everything goes and how it gets handled. That was a primary focus of our facility, was how do we eliminate the landfill issues and increase recycling?”