A West Clare company is converting waste plastic that is regarded as a blight on the countryside into an environmentally-friendly farm product without any government support.
In view of all the calls from environmentalists to address climate change and improve the environment, it is reasonable to assume that IFF Plastics in Cree receives some state subsidy or incentive.
However, Sharon Barrington from IFF Plastics Limited has confirmed it doesn’t receive assistance in any form to encourage farmers to purchase their eco friendly plastic posts.
IFF Plastic Limited is a West Clare plastic washing, shredding and manufacturing company that takes recycling to a new level accepting all plastics from industrial factories, farms and the ocean.
All recycling processes are completely customised by the plant to reuse up to 95% of all plastics accepted at the facility.
Recovered ocean plastics were recently added to the process and is proving a great addition to the product.
Sharon Barrington explains the current infrastructure in Ireland is based around collecting, segregating and transporting recycled material abroad.
IFF Plastics employs Liam Barrington and his father, Pat on a part-time basis three days a week.
If the company got some investment in the form of a grant or a subsidy for farmers to purchase their environmentally friendly plastic posts, Sharon explained it could employ two more people and operate five days a week.
The company gets paid to accept waste plastic and this subsidies the sale of plastic posts.
However, Sharon believes there should be a subsidy for a farmer who purchases plastic posts as they are far more environmentally friendly and unlike timber don’t require cutting down more trees to replace them.
She praised farmers who have supplied waste plastic and have purchased plastic stakes on a regular basis.
“December was very busy. January is normally a bit quieter but it has been good for sales. We can sell a few hundred in a month. To grow the business we need a bit of help and investment.
“A builder who works for Waterford County Council is doing a scheme and he took a pallet of the square stakes. We are not totally relying on farmers, who have given us great support, to buy back a product that they have sent the waste in for.
“It would be great if local authorities started to support us because councils buy loads of timber. Plastic posts are ideal for walkways and waterways. A lot of the timber products that are treated have creosote on them so that they don’t rot but this can seep into water.
“Plastic posts don’t rot or leech in wet conditions. They are very environmentally friendly.
“We don’t seem to fit into the structure or a category that is already there.
“If we were located in Shannon or Ennis we would get a lot more financial support. Loads of business in West Clare will tell you it is hard to get people to help them develop their business. I have tried all the deputies for help and some of them are farmers who I have collected plastic from.
“They still wouldn’t even answer an email from you,” she stated.
“Even if the government gave a subsidy to the farmer who buys plastic posts, it would allow us to raise our price a little.
“If plastic is taken from the sea, the only place it can go apart from IFF Plastics, is landfill or incineration because it is so mixed and the risk of contamination.
“If any plastic from the ocean is placed into a public litter bin it goes to landfill or is incinerated because these bins are not segregated, it is all mixed waste.
“We can segregate and wash plastic that is taken in from the sea. If there is a particular plastic that can’t be recycled, we can send it on to somewhere where it can be recycled,” she explained.
IFF Plastics leaves a one tonne bag with a community group like the Doonbeg Development Association and once this is full of plastic from the ocean, it is collected.
Sharon outlined the biggest problem with timber is it rots when it is in the ground compared to plastic, which lasts forever.
When IFF Plastics first started off in business about 24 years ago there was huge volumes of plastic all over the countryside, which no one was seriously addressing.
This coincided with the start of the large round silage bales, which led to a dramatic increase in the amount of waste plastic once the bales were used in the winter time.
The Farm Relief Services came to the family to see if they could come up a solution to all the plastic that was being littered around the countryside.
Pat Barringtom constructed a purpose built baler to bale the plastic and sent the very first load to the British Polymer Institute (BPI) Drumfries in Scotland to start the recycling process.
There was nothing of its kind in Europe at the time. The baler was so big it has to be transported in an articulated truck.
“Pat has an unbelievable mind. He is great to figure things out. He built a baler to bale the waste plastic and travelled around Ireland baling in certain yards and then a shipping company would come in and ship it to BPI in Drumfries.
“He was contracted by the Farm Relief Services to do this work. Irish Farm Films Producers’ Group’s (IFFPG’s) came on board, drafted legislation and brought in a scheme,” she said.
RPC BPI recycled products is the largest polythene film recycler in Europe, with the scope and expertise to recycle up to 70,000 tonnes of plastic waste each year.
The family worked for years and years baling the plastic for the Irish Farm Relief Services.
The continuous significant increase in the production of waste plastic resulted in capacity issues in Scotland, which paved the way for the construction of a recycling plant in Cree.
In 2007, the company started recycling plastic and turning them it into pellets like nuts concentrates. This pellet was used as a raw material to make other products.
However, the pellet plant didn’t prove to be commercially viable in the long run because when the price of oil dropped, the price of pellets also fell.
The family scaled back on producing pellets and decided to come up with a new product that could be manufactured and used in Ireland.
Five years ago, IFF Plastics started with one product – five foot plastic fencing post. This has sold very well and two years ago, the company added a six foot post to their range.
The round fencing posts are used with barbed or electric fence wire as fencing for cattle.
Last year, the company added a square fencing post, which is normally used for post and rail fencing around houses.
Following the construction of the plastic recycling plant in Cree, Pat Barrington couldn’t continue baling the plastic and this is now done by an operator at another location.
The company doesn’t use the plastic off bales to make their products because it is too soft. The black soft plastic gets washed, baled and sent to a customer in England.
It uses a mixture of plastic to manufacture their posts, the majority of which is polypropylene plastic that comes from artificial fertiliser bags.
Volunteers who pick up waste plastic from beaches in Clare bring this to Cree with a specific collector free of charge.
The collection of ocean plastic started about two years ago and the plastic recycling plant is proving to be a vital outlet for people who want to address the scourge of this waste on beaches for tourism and environmental reasons.
Ocean plastic has to be washed properly to remove sand, which can be a corrosive substance in machinery.
The plant could take in up to 50,000 tonnes of ocean plastic annually if an agency like Bord Iascaigh Mhara supported this initiative.