An animation showing a refurbishing process which allows plastic bags containing resin to be reused up to 10 times.
Reusing plastic bags might not seem very exciting or innovative, but it's something Josh Pritt, process control coordinator at Georgia-Pacific's Brookneal oriented strand board (OSB) facility in Gladys, Virginia, is very proud of. And he should be. He and his team's efforts directly led to improving the sustainability of not just his mill, but two other Georgia-Pacific facilities and four non-GP companies as well.
Of course, we're not talking about grocery store bags – these are supersacks, large plastic bags that hold up to 2,700 pounds of resin (around same weight as a compact car), which is used by GP to bond wood flakes together during the OSB manufacturing process.
The Brookneal facility receives the resin from GP Chemicals facilities such as those in Conway, North Carolina, or Taylorsville, Mississippi, and they typically go through 10-12 bags a day (though other mills may use more). For many years, once the bags had been used the standard practice was to recycle or, at some facilities, send them to a landfill.
"We explored reusing the bags before," Pritt says, "but there were concerns about dust exposure, so the project was abandoned."
Pritt felt throwing away the bags after one use was wasteful, so he and his team continued looking for an alternative. Eventually Pritt connected with Tim Petracca, the CEO of PPC, a company specializing in recycling industrial bags. Instead of using water or harsh chemical solvents to clean the bags, PPC uses an air blowing and vacuuming system to get rid of excess dust and resins.
"We blow air into each bag, inflate it like a balloon, then use special LED lighting to look for rips, cuts and stressed seams. We repair them whenever we can, but if the integrity of a bag has been compromised in any way, we recycle it," Petracca says.
After a year-long test run, all Brookneal's used supersacks were heading to PPC instead of being immediately recycled. The environmental impact of the change is significant, as each supersack can now be reused up to 10 times, though the average is about six.
That equates to an 83 percent decrease in disposed bags, or – another way to think about it – the facility is using 3,000 fewer new bags per year. So not only are less bags being disposed, but the facility is now also consuming fewer resources (the materials used to create the new bags) as a result of the change. In fact, the impact of the switch was so significant Brookneal received a Georgia-Pacific Environmental Excellence Award in 2016 for the supersack reuse program.
"Nobody here was happy about tossing those bags after one use," Pritt says. "We knew there had to be a better way, so we just kept looking until we found something that worked. It was just the right thing to do."