Continuus Energy is partnering with Waste Management and uses its waste stream to ferret out materials with recycling potential. “We want the plastic and the fiber — the paper, cardboard,” said Continuus Materials Senior Vice President Rich Toberman. “Eventually, that becomes our product.” Since 2014, that product has been something called SpecFUEL, fuel pellets made from a mixture of thin, flexible plastic — from products like plastic bags, shrink wrap, and snack bags — and paper products. Cement manufacturers use the pellets to power their plants as a supplement to coal. The pellets have a slightly better emissions profile than coal and are also slightly cheaper, though some environmental groups have criticized the practice as effectively being incineration.
Beginning in August, however, Texas-based Continuus Materials will also start producing wallboard from the same ingredients at its Philadelphia plant. “We started to look at the material, and we wondered what other things we could do with it,” said Marc Lower, vice president of sales. After some research and development, engineers at the company discovered they could compress the same plastic and paper materials into wallboard, and do so at a reasonable cost. Last June, Continuus Materials acquired ReWall, an Iowa-based company that was already manufacturing wallboard from plastic-coated cardboard beverage cartons.
The boards, which the company calls Everboard, are primarily used as roof cover boards. Lower said the boards are harder and more durable than alternatives like gypsum and are the only material other than oriented strand board certified as being resistant to severe hail. To meet certification requirements for building codes, a fiberglass layer goes over top to prevent the boards from catching fire.
The United States and Canada use about 20 billion square feet of wallboard a year, according to the Gypsum Association. Lower estimated the waste-to-wallboard model could divert about 110 billion pounds of waste from going to the landfill annually. “There’s sort of two sides to it,” he said. “One is helping solve the waste problem, and then the other part is actually creating a product that people want to buy, at a price that doesn’t cost any more than what they already buy.”
Maurice Sampson, eastern Pennsylvania director at Clean Water Action, said turning used plastic and paper into wallboard is a great repurposing of the material and achieves the ultimate goal of turning waste products into a product that is useful and durable. Even so, he said, it doesn’t solve the larger problem of plastics in the environment. “Just because we’re recovering it doesn’t mean we’re improving the overall picture,” he said.