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Bringing recycling to a whole new level

Reflex Plastics Technology has found a foolproof recession idea — recycling agricultural bale wraps into high-grade material which can be used to make plastic film or refuse sacks and thereby cutting waste, writes Trish Dromey

Multimillion-euro opportunities are opening up for Offaly-based company Reflex Plastics Technology, which for the last six months, has been turning waste agricultural bale wrap into high-grade poly-ethylene plastic pellets.

The unusual thing about the company is not that it recycles this form of plastic but that it can turn it into high-grade material which can be used to make plastic film or refuse sacks again.

"We are the only company in Ireland with the ability to do this and there are only two others in Europe,’’ says Reflex chief executive Ciaran Duggan, explaining that recycling typically involves turning recovered material into a lower grade of plastic.

Operating since October, Reflex employs a staff of 21, has seven clients and is exporting 80% of its output to Europe and Britain.

"We are processing in the region of 100 tonnes of plastic a week and we aim to increase this to 150 tonnes by the end of the year,’’ says Mr Duggan.

Based in Daingean, the company expects to increase its staff to 34 by the end of the year. Customers are mainly refuse sack manufacturers. Reflex is supplying one major company with operations in Europe and the Far East.

Mr Duggan says there are significant market oppor-tunities for a company supplying high-grade remanufactured plastic and expects Reflex to achieve a multimillion-euro turnover within two or three years.

He says the demand is there and the fact the company’s product is made from recovered material makes it environmentally friendly and even more attractive to customers. "Plastic is made from oil and recovering one tonne of plastic can save up to seven tonnes of oil."

While recycled poly-ethylene pellets typically sell for 50% or 55% of the price of newly produced plastic, Mr Duggan says Reflex is achieving a higher price than this because of the quality of its re-manufactured plastic.

Reflex has been in existence since 2005, when it was set up by Mr Duggan and co-founder Adam Wilkinson. "Both of us were farmers who were looking for a business idea. We did a lot of research and came to the conclusion that we could do something in alternative energy, resource recovery or recycling."

Further research led them to look at the possibility of recovering used plastics and re-manufacturing them to a high standard. They subsequently identified agricultural waste plastic as a resource they could use.

"In the region of 15,000 tonnes of bale wrap is used annually in Ireland. Some is going to landfill, some is being exported to the Far East, some is being recycled and some isn’t being collected and is littering the countryside."

Having established that there was a good market for high-grade plastic pellets, they set about working out how to produce them from waste plastic. They didn’t have any experience in either the waste or the plastics industry but did know a bit about machines.

"We bought equipment in Europe in 2005 which was designed to recycle similar but not identical material and we modified this by trial and error."

It took three years to successfully adapt the machinery, but by 2008 they had achieved this and were ready to seek funding to commercialise the venture. Unfortunately for Reflex, the recession had hit.

"As our plans came to fruition the investment community were locking away their cheque books, which made things very difficult," Mr Duggan says.

It took longer than planned, but the company has since raised close to €3m through private investment, an Ulster Bank loan and has secured some investment from Enterprise Ireland, which listed Reflex as a High Potential Start-Up in 2011.

The company used the investment to purchase and modify the equipment it needed and in mid-2011 it took on a staff of 10.

The initial challenge was to prove to customers the company could successfully turn waste plastic into high-grade material.

"We have done this over the last few months and are now working on building up our customer base."

Given that plastic prices are rising with oil prices and that manufacturers are under pressure to improve their carbon footprint, Mr Duggan sees significant export opportunities for Reflex. It is targeting refuse sack manufacturers, and refuse sacks, he points out, are essential items, made with inexpensive materials which continue to sell well even in a recession.

Fact file

* Company: Reflex Plastics Technology.

* Location: Daingean, Co Offaly.

* Chief executive: Ciaran Duggan.

* Business: Produces polyethylene plastic pellets from waste plastic.

* Exports: 80%.

* Staff: 21.

This appeared in the printed version of the Irish Examiner Monday, April 02, 2012

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