The Circular Economics of Plastics and Evertrak

Circular Economics Needs an Engine
Circular economics are the foundation of sustainable manufacturing and recycling – the end-of-life product is recycled into raw material for new products. The virtues of recycling plastic are obvious: reduction in fossil fuel consumption and greenhouse gas emissions, and less plastic waste polluting our cities, landscapes, and oceans. However, circular plastic economics are not compelling without an economic engine that drives plastic recycling. Recycling must serve the individual’s self interest: the consumer needs a reason to hold an empty plastic bottle until a recycling receptacle is found, the industrial manufacturer must derive value from maintaining a separate waste stream for recyclable materials, etc. Unless and until economic self-interest influences these residential and industrial decisions, recycling is altruistic for some but not compelling for all. Circular economics must focus on the ECONOMICS! Manufacturing exists because economics drive self-interested entities to convert raw materials into finished goods that others will buy. Circularity needs economics to drive recycling.

Enter Evertrak
Evertrak glass fiber reinforced composite (GFRC) rail ties consume almost 200 lbs of 100% recycled plastic in EVERY TIE, while delivering the strength and stiffness of new hardwood rail ties. Evertrak solves the failure modes of hardwood ties: rail seat abrasion, spike integrity decline, and especially bio-infestation & rot. Evertrak GFRC ties will serve in the most demanding environmental and high-tonnage track conditions for decades, impervious to moisture and bugs, and reliable under the load of billions of gross tons of freight. Evertrak GFRC ties are compelling to rail operators and owners in reducing capital investment and maintenance expenses, which feeds the engine of plastic recycling. In short, Evertrak provides economic imperatives for recycling by being valuable to railroads, and Evertrak needs A LOT of recycled plastic.

The Circular Economy in a Picture
Evertrak and a global plastics manufacturer teamed up recently to install Evertrak GFRC ties in a Texas polyethylene manufacturing facility, showcasing the ideal circular economics of HDPE plastic. Virgin HDPE resin produced for consumer and industrial plastics products was recycled from residential curbside and industrial waste streams, then processed into Evertrak GFRC ties. Now those ties will serve safely and reliably in track for 50-100 years in the most severe environmental conditions. That is a win for the plastics manufacturer, a win for Evertrak, and a win for all of us who commit to reducing plastic waste.

 

Scaling the Circular Economy
Millions of pounds of recycled plastic have already been consumed to produce Evertrak GFRC rail ties that will serve railroads for 50-100 years. Furthermore, installation of tens of thousands of hardwood rail ties, soaked in carcinogenic creosote, has been avoided. In 2020 Evertrak converted 3 million pounds of plastic into durable, high performance railroad ties that carry North America’s heaviest freight trains in the most difficult environmental conditions. This is just the beginning of Evertrak’s commitment to drive the recycling end of a circular economy for plastic in the United States and abroad. A million Evertrak GFRC ties will put 200 million pounds of recycled plastic to work for the rest of our lives, reducing capital and maintenance costs for railroads, and driving the economics of recycling to the self-interest of everyone who discards a plastic product. Is a million Evertrak ties feasible? North American railroads replace 20 million wood ties EVERY YEAR! Evertrak can drive the economics of plastic recycling in the United States, eliminate the harvest of millions of trees for wood ties, and prevent tons of creosote from leaching into waterways and groundwater. At Evertrak we call this going BEYOND WOOD.

Please share this case study in circular economics and plastic recycling with others who care about making plastic recycling a winner for EVERYONE.

3 Comments
  • Valerie Cover
    Posted at 12:09h, 25 October Reply

    The author’s point about economic value being built into recycling is spot on. Evertrak has found a way to implement such an approach showing that it can be done. Small innovative companies are indeed the backbone of America and once again lead the way in solving complex persistent problems. Kudos Evertrak!

  • Tyson Le Roy
    Posted at 16:44h, 25 October Reply

    These guys have got it nailed.

    “ Unless and until economic self-interest influences these residential and industrial decisions, recycling is altruistic for some but not compelling for all. Circular economics must focus on the ECONOMICS!”

    “Evertrak provides economic imperatives for recycling by being valuable to railroads, and Evertrak needs A LOT of recycled plastic.”

    This is a no brainer, way to go Evertrak!

  • Drago Santrach
    Posted at 10:03h, 26 October Reply

    Matt is correct the economic self-interesr is the driver for recycling. In my 30 years plus in the composites industry, I have seen many efforts wasted on Proof of Concept for recycleability because the end product is an expensive and hard to use filler.. Evertrak concept starts with the application economics and then develops a process to make it an economic success. May the force be with you Matt.

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