Tuesday , 27 July 2021

Recycling waste material and creating plastic posts

Danny Farkash from Noralta Farms Ltd. near Vermilion has created a more cost-effective way of making recycled plastic posts, by eliminating a large portion of labour and input costs.

To eliminate cost, he used recycled steel from the oilfield to make the machine, an old tractor to run it, recycled wood pallets to fuel it, and recycled plastic as the input.

“For most people that do plastic recycling the cost is too much, so by the time they are done, it’s almost unmarketable. Their transportation, energy to heat it and using a huge amount of fossil fuels, and labour for sorting and cleaning the plastic all add up. I’m not reinventing the wheel, just finding a different way to roll it,” said Farkash.

Used grain bags are the main input, but he is looking at the possibility of mixing in small amounts of other recycled plastic in the future.

He said usually one company will downsize the bags into small Toonie-sized chips and another company will melt them into the posts. He’s doing the whole process himself, and has eliminated the cleaning process because the bags rolling up the shredder and blowing up to the top of the bin is enough to blow the debris off.

Farkash uses a different shredder than other recyclers with pieces that were reworked from old farm equipment. He will be getting a small excavator to pick up the 400-500 pound rolls and feed the shredding machine as an additional way to eliminate labour. A 1965 Cockshutt tractor runs the machine and he said the engine is very energy efficient.

“We’re probably the only plastic processor that runs their equipment outside. The five-ton incinerator is made from anhydrous ammonia tanks, and burns three pallets in each of the two doors, holding the 500-degree temperature for an hour,” said Farkash.

There are very few emissions. The extruder works like an auger. At 25’ long and 8” around, it telescopes as well as screws it into the molds like a big glue gun. The operator controls it from inside the shed – lowering the molds into a cooling water tank, and then has air pressure unload and stack them so they don’t have to touch the posts at all.”

Being made all out of scrap, he said getting it to work together was trial and error. When trying to make things as labourless as possible, he said a person has to have determination – that some days it’s frustrating, but when they do come together it’s pretty cool.

With the hydraulics and air compressor stored inside, he said the machine can operate whether it’s raining, 40 below or scorching. He is aiming to make 1-2 posts per minute and if successful, he expects they will be able to recycle eight tons of plastic per day.

“If we don’t recycle it, they would either bury this plastic or burn it,” said Farkash.

He said some counties have been doing a great job of marketing recycling, and he is working with others who don’t have rollers to create one out of recycled material to reduce their cost.

Farkash plans to follow the price benchmark for wood posts at $8-12 per post (which he says are going up due to a shortage).

Other plastic posts can cost $18-20, and the benefit of plastic ones is that they won’t fall over–grain bags are made to not deteriorate from the sun, whereas farmers can end up redoing wood ones over in 5-8 years. The plastic posts are stronger than fir wood and can be sawed or nailed, and can take electric current without any insulators.

Cross-section of a recycled plastic post.

“They can virtually put it up and never have to service it again in their lifetime (unless the wire breaks),” said Farkash.

“The pressure treatment they use on wood is very toxic and environmentalists are pushing for a change – that’s why I’ve gone this direction.”

He said the machine could be adapted to make railway ties or power poles.

He already has approximately 100,000 posts spoken for with customers ranging from all over western Canada and the United States. His clients include 15 different stores, three of which are on the coast of British Columbia. Farkash said any post in the ground there seems to rot off due to the moisture.

Not using a large amount of electricity or fossil fuels, he said, is the only way to make recycling profitable – turning waste plastic into a marketable product.

Because he is a fan of keeping things eco-friendly, he said just because people come from a small farm doesn’t mean they can’t do something to change the world.

About Angela Mouly

Angela comes to Lakeland Connect after leaving traditional newspaper where she spent the past four years reporting on community events. Her repertoire includes writing about history, politics, agriculture, sports, entertainment and art. She was the third place recipient of an AWNA General Excellence Award for “Best Front Page” during their 2016 Better Newspaper Competition. Angela has lived in rural Alberta all her life and in Vermilion for the past 15 years. She looks forward to continuing to serve and inform the Lakeland community by joining in people's many adventures and sharing their stories.