Wilmington-area recycler turns waste into products
By Ken Mammarella
WILMINGTON – For Eco Plastic Products of Delaware co-founders Charlie Falletta and Jim Kelley, one man’s trash truly is their treasure. The 2-year-old company collects used plastic bottles and grocery bags to melt down and make benches, picnic tables, bicycle racks and more.
The nonprofit is a labor of love that can be expressed in two figures: $800,000 and $10.
The former being how much Falletta estimates he has put up for the building and startup capital. The latter is how much Kelly gets paid per hour as CEO.
“We’re better passion people than money people,” Falletta said.
“Every county in America ought to have a facility like ours,” Kelley added. “And if we can show that this works, it will spread.”
It’s starting to work. They came up with the idea in 2018 and shipped their first product in January 2019. Some months this year, Falletta hasn’t needed to subsidize their $6,000 in operating expenses.
Eco Plastic makes 13 weather-resistant and ultraviolet-protected products, using seven molds, five shaped like lumber, one like the leg of a park bench and one like a parking block. Their products range from $55 for a parking block to $725 for a picnic table. Lumber and golf accessories are cheaper.
The products come in seven basic colors, custom colors and multicolored. Several schools have held collection drives to gather plastics and turn them into items in school colors, so they’ve developed 50 formulas for custom colors, using organic colorants. They’ve also produced multiple items with a rainbow of colors, evoking the rainbow flag of LGBTQ pride. Once, 30,000 bags got put in a park bench.
Besides the plastic and colorants, the only other components in Eco Plastic products are sawdust, to make items less slippery, and line, which makes boards more rigid. Appropriately, it’s recycled from Doug Green Woodworking down the street.
The plastics industry in 1988 set up the Resin Identification Code with seven numbers defining each type. Eco Plastic started out broadly but has scaled back to only No. 2 (high-density polyethylene, also known as HDPE), commonly found in bottles, bottlecaps, containers, bubble wrap and single-use bags.
A few bags with No. 4 (low-density polyethylene) and a few caps with No. 5 (polypropylene) are OK, but too much of another plastic could turn the end product brittle or prone to sagging, they said.
Starting Jan. 1, Delaware is banning many single-use plastic bags, but the entrepreneurs are confident they won’t run low in supply, considering all the other products made from HDPE.
Falletta and Kelly learned that the plastics dropped off by individuals, schools and other environmentally concerned groups is reliably loose, empty, clean and dry, unlike what they considered to be the too-contaminated collections they examined at the Delaware Solid Waste Authority and from local Wawas.
Their longest collaboration has been with New Castle County, which has sold memorial benches in Glasgow, Delcastle and Carousel parks for $480 apiece.
Falletta and Kelley are talking with Goodwill of Delaware and Delaware County about a partnership, and they just began a recycle-into-stuff arrangement with Nemours/Alfred I. duPont Hospital for Children. The Delaware Department of Natural Resources and Environmental Control (DNREC) has approached them about supplying plastics to bulk buyers, and for that, they’d need to add to their equipment to densify, granulate, mix, heat, extrude, mold, cool and make more stuff.
“A little bit of money times a lot of volume is a lot of money,” Falletta said hopefully.
DNREC allows Eco Plastics to take 2 tons a month of drop-offs, and they weigh what’s delivered, manufactured, and sold.
They take drop-offs 7 a.m. to 4 p.m. on Thursdays and through appointments booked at www.ecoplasticproducts.org.