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South Elgin firm redefines recycling to the next level
By Harry Hitzeman | Daily Herald Staff

South Elgin's Hoffer Plastics has started an internal program in which it recycles all its leftover plastic scraps from making bottle caps, containers and other items. Here, a bin catches scraps that are later trucked to a Missouri firm, where they are melted down and reused.


Rick West | Staff Photographer

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Published: 1/17/2008 12:12 AM

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Walk through the 372,000-square-foot Hoffer Plastics factory in South Elgin and, in some ways, it's just like any employer.

Posters remind workers to be safe.

In the break room, there's bins for workers to recycle their aluminum cans and plastic water bottles.

Ditto for office paper and cardboard.

But in late 2007, management at the custom injection molding firm took recycling to a new level.

The 55-year-old company now recycles everything -- starting with scrap plastics that are a byproduct of making bottle caps and containers for items such as lotions, shampoos and pancake syrup.

In December, the company sent 30,000 pounds of material to a Missouri-based recycling firm and not a single pound went to the landfill, said Gretchen Hoffer Farb, the company's director of supply chain management.

"We're doing everything we can to sustain the environment and recycle. We send truckloads of plastic to a Jackson, Mo., recycler every week," Farb said. "(Recycling) has value to our community."

That's music to the ears of Mike Mitchell, executive director of the Oak Park-based Illinois Recycling Association.

"It's great. It just proves it's a resource, not a waste," Mitchell said. "So much stuff that we treat as garbage has value."

Farb said that value is translating to benefits for employees as well.

She estimates the company -- South Elgin's biggest employer -- will net more than $100,000 in the coming year from the initiative.

Although it takes workers more time to sort the materials, some of the funds will or have been used for employee recognition, the summer picnic and a Christmas gift for each worker.

"Without all the employees doing it, it wouldn't be successful," Farb said. "It's extra work, but everybody's embraced it."

On a tour of the facility, Farb showed large octagonal bins in which workers separate scrap plastic, cardboard, plastic bags, steel and even copper.

Workers, using the machines that make bottle caps and other items, sift out extra plastic pieces.

For example, some presses makes bottle caps attached to an I-shaped skeleton. The caps are punched out and the skeleton goes into the recycling bin.

Dirty plastics can be cleaned and reused by DCO Environmental and Recycling, the company contracted by Hoffer.

Even a large pancake-shaped blob of plastic that is left over from when a machine is purged can be recycled and reused.

"This used to be garbage because you couldn't sell it to a consumer," Farb said.

In November, Hoffer Plastics sent 60,000 pounds -- or the weight of more than 14 Toyota Sienna minivans -- of scrap plastic and other recyclable materials to the DCO firm.

With oil prices nearing all-time highs, making the most of the 19 million pounds of plastic used annually at the plant not only makes sense for the environment, but the bottom line as well.

"As the raw material goes up, the recoverable expense should go up," Farb said.