Perstorp Plastic Systems, Americas, has one of those products with a clean beginning, a clean conclusion and it’s environmentally safe every step of the way in between.

“Plastics have gotten a bad rap,” says Bob Bryant, Perstorp’s director of marketing. “I think it dates back to the movie ‘The Graduate,’ when that smarmy guy keeps saying, ‘One word—plastics’.”

The sight of Styrofoam fast-food containers carpeting the landscape as far as the eye can see hasn’t done anything to enhance the reputation of plastics. Besides which, they give off acrid black smoke when burned.

But Bryant contends that not all plastics are created equal. Take the ones Perstorp uses to manufacture its Xytec line of rigid collapsible containers, used in shipping everything from fresh produce to car parts.

“The plastic is made from natural gas,” explains Bryant. “The purity of the virgin product is suitable for pharmaceutical-grade plastic that’s comparable to the plastic used in the pill bottles.”

These containers are used to move consumable products such as produce—in the case of produce, the containers can carry fresh fruit and vegetables all the way from the fields and orchards to the grocery display cases where customers put them in their shopping carts.

When these containers get so beat up that they’re no longer useable, they’re taken to a Perstorp plant, where they’re ground into pellets and recycled as small Xytec containers such as those that might be used to move small metal parts. They don’t require as much sterility as food containers. When those wear out, the containers are taken back to the shop, reground and made into yet more containers.

During each generation, the purity of the original plastic becomes more diluted and size of the containers it’s used in tends to get larger, until we’re talking collapsible containers that four by four by four feet that can hold 2,500 pounds.

When those containers wear out, they’re recycled back into similar sized containers as long as the engineers feel the plastic is still durable enough to be usable, then they order it “posted.”

“When it’s no longer usable for containers,” says Bryant, “we make compost bins out of it. When the recycle cycle is eventually over, the product still retains all of its energy and can at last be used as a fuel.

“The only by-products of burning our plastic are energy and water,” Bryant says.

Pretty impressive. But Perstorp thinks it may have come up with a plan that not only will extend the life expectancy of at least one of its products and provide a bonus for grocery shoppers. Perstorp, which is in the process of consolidating its corporate operations in Lakewood, is test-marketing in several eastern states a foldable-returnable form of packaging for retail distribution.

It’s a collapsible plastic container 16 by 24 inches in diameter and either four or eight inches tall harvesting crews can carry with them into the field to put fresh-picked produce in. These then can be stacked on wheeled pallets that can be loaded directly onto trucks for shipment to wholesalers. The mesh sides permit the produce to be washed in the racks so that all the wholesaler has to do is distribute the pallets full of racks to his customers. The produce can even be sold in the racks—and the customer who buys by the rack, can take the rack home.

When the produce is used up, says Bryant, the shopper has the first in what the company hopes will be a collection of stackable containers for use around the home storing tools.

“It’s such a great idea,” says Bryant, “I’m seriously considering liberating a few so I can test market them at my house.”

By George Pica, Business Examiner staff