A Closer Look E-mail the author

United Plastic Recycling

Candace Rutherford • 334-288-5002
A Closer Look

Candace Rutherford said that ending up at United Plastic Recycling (UPR) was “kind of serendipitous.” While the company has three locations, her job allows her to do a lot of her work from home, which is ideal for her. “I’ve worked for large companies, and I’ve worked for small companies. Now I work for a privately owned company. It’s a good fit.”

Rutherford buys scrap plastic and sells regrinds to end users. She said that UPR was “ahead of the curve” when it came to recycling. They were in the market before most people realized the potential in plastics.

What Rutherford buys “goes along with the general industry,” changing as the face of American manufacturing changes. When she first started with the company, Rutherford was buying a lot of yarn carriers from textile companies. Now, much of the plastic comes from the automotive industry.

“The markets are always interesting to follow,” Rutherford said. The market for plastic scrap is affected by things as disparate as consumer spending and the export markets. For a time, the audio industry was a big producer of scrap as CDs were misprinted, defective, or otherwise needed to be destroyed. Now, with more music being sold as downloads, Rutherford sees fewer CDs coming in as scrap.

“Most of what I do is clean material,” Rutherford said, but noted that the company has processes to handle mixed and contaminated material as well. “We’ve gotten loads with vermin,” she said, explaining that part of the problem can be where and how the scrap is stored by the producer. Material that is clean when it is produced can become infested in storage, making it less attractive as a scrap product.

When contaminated material comes in, UPR can wash and density separate the material to avoid cross-contamination and to get the best value from the material.

On the selling end, some of the regrinds go back to the people who produced the scrap. But “some can’t use back recycled material,” Rutherford said. She explained that in the automotive industry, there are a few parts that can be made from recycled material. However, in visible areas where color matters, they might require virgin materials.

She said that the carpet industry is using more recycled materials, and that if you look closely at carpeting, the darker fibers may be from recycled materials. The construction industry also uses recycled materials to make things like drainage pipes.

Foreign exports have slowed, she said, particularly exports to China. “China’s not taking much,” Rutherford said, “They’re trying to clean up for the Olympics.” On the other hand, the automotive industry has been good recently. “We try to keep on an even keel,” Rutherford said.

Compared to dealing with post-consumer recycling, Rutherford said that “it’s a lot more fun to be working in the post-industrial market.” She explained that industrial producers “are going to be making a product every day,” whereas consumer recycling isn’t as steady. She said that the growth of the automotive industry in the southeast has helped UPR grow.

Rutherford also said that learning to identify all of the varieties of plastics has been interesting, but that it’s also rewarding to know that “you do help people out.” She said that when she can buy material that producers have been paying to dispose of, “you can be their hero.”

“I’ve seen a lot more people be more conscientious about the waste they’re generating.” Rutherford said. They pay more attention to what they are throwing away, and are more interested in finding recycling options.

A new trend that has emerged recently is companies that move scrap material overseas and then sell it back to the United States. Previously, the material was consumed overseas and didn’t make its way back. Rutherford said that she’s not sure how that will ultimately affect the domestic industry.

As far as the future of plastic recycling, Rutherford said, “I hope it keeps getting bigger.”