‘Plastic is a beautiful thing if you can take care of it’

Two Irish companies make recycling plastics their business

Rita Shah of Shabra Plastics: “It’s important that people rinse out their milk bottles, take off the labels and lids and don’t leave food on plastic containers so it can be used again.” Photograph: Eric Luke

Rita Shah of Shabra Plastics: “It’s important that people rinse out their milk bottles, take off the labels and lids and don’t leave food on plastic containers so it can be used again.” Photograph: Eric Luke

 

Shabra Plastics is the largest plastics recycler in Ireland, recycling 100,000 tonnes of plastics annually. Based in Castleblaney, Co Monaghan, the business was founded over 30 years ago by Rita Shah and Oliver Brady.

Shabra Plastics operates a so-called closed-loop process for the recovery, reprocessing and re-use of polyethylene (PE) and polyethylene terephthalate (PET). As well as PE and PET, Shabra also recycles high-density polyethylene (HDPE), PE film, coat hangers, plastic crates and pallets. “We source our materials from waste companies collecting from householders and from industrial waste,” explains Rita Shah.

The facilities at Shabra segregates cardboard/paper, plastics and aluminium into individual waste streams – selling the cardboard/paper and aluminium to other companies and cleaning and shredding the plastics into flakes and pellets for resale and reuse. Its sister company, Shabra Polymex, manufacturers bin liners, supermarket shopping bags and promotional bags for markets in Europe, Asia, Africa, Japan and the United States.

Contaminated waste

Contaminated waste makes plastic recycling more difficult, according to Shah. “Plastic is a beautiful thing if you can take care of it. It’s important that people rinse out their milk bottles, take off the labels and lids and don’t leave food on plastic containers so it can be used again,” she adds. “I employ 70 people here. There is life after death for plastics. They are re-usable and safe. We need to pay more attention so we don’t cross-contaminate them,” she adds.

Munster Polymers recycles plastics for reuse in a recycling facility in Waterfall, Co Cork. With eight employees, the company processes about 20,000 tonnes of plastics annually. “Most of our plastic is post-industrial commercial waste from skip companies and manufacturers,” explains Zaneta O’Brien from Munster Polymers. The plastics recycled at Munster Polymers includes off-cuts of uPVC and uPVC windows and door frames, high-density polyethylene (HDPE) from hard hats, piping and hard plastics in shampoo bottles, cleaning products and milk bottles. Packaging materials used for electronic goods are also recycled at the plant.

Once the materials arrive at Munster Polymers, they are segregated, washed, granulated and made into pellets. These recycled plastic pellets are sold to plastics brokers and companies who make bin bags, piping and garden implements such as wheelbarrows from recycled plastic.

O’Brien says there is room for improvement in the segregation of materials at source. “A lot of people still see no value in plastics but I would like to see more use of secondary materials such as recycled plastics in Ireland. The price gained for recycled plastics is still low but with Government support to buy equipment, more recycling companies could recycle because up to now, we have been very dependent on Chinese and Asian markets.”

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