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A Sit-Down Demonstration

The park bench and picnic table placed outside the new Kent County Recycling and Education Center by Cascade Engineering and Bata Plastics isn’t just a convenience: It is actually an educational display.

The table and bench are made of recycled milk jugs that were collected at the county recycling center and then purchased by Bata Plastics, which processes most of the county’s scrap plastic for reuse by companies such as Cascade Engineering, a plastic injection molder of a wide variety of products for industry and consumers.

The recycling facility includes a classroom where the county will demonstrate for school groups and adults what constitutes recyclable material and how the facility works. A program for a basic recycling class for little kids has been developed by the facility.

Bata sells some of its processed scrap plastic to Polly Products LLC, a small manufacturing company near Lansing, led by Steve Ault, that makes “green” outdoor tables and benches.

Matt Hammond, vice president of operations at Bata, said the table donated to the recycling center in Grand Rapids was designed to be handicapped-accessible. The attached benches on both sides only extend about 80 percent of the length of the table, leaving room for wheelchairs to park as close to the table surface as the people seated on the benches.

Hammond said an estimated 1,000 or so milk jugs go into a park bench; the picnic table takes about 2,460. The tables weigh about 351 pounds, which means they won’t be as easy to steal as wood picnic tables.

Outdoor furniture made of recycled milk jugs has other advantages: It does not require staining or painting, is maintenance free, and will last in the elements much longer than wood products, according to Hammond.

Of course, the products also serve as a practical example of how recycling can help the community.

Cascade Engineering served as the corporate sponsor of Bata’s table-and-bench project this year by covering the cost of making the tables and benches. They carry the Cascade Engineering logo and are clearly identified as being made of 100 percent recycled material.

In July, Cascade and Bata also donated a recycled-plastic table and bench to the city of Grand Rapids, which Mayor George Heartwell formally accepted in a ceremony at the new Grand Rapids Bike Park at 580 Kirtland SW.

“We are proud to partner with Cascade Engineering, a leader in the practical application of sustainability, to carry our community commitment into its third year,” said Bata Plastics president and CEO W. Lee Hammond. 

“The combination of Bata Plastics’ recycling capabilities and Cascade’s financial support means that our shared dedication to sound environmental stewardship will also have a tangible social impact. That’s exactly how the ‘pieces’ of sustainability are meant to fit together.”

This marks the third year that Bata Plastics has invited a local company to collaborate in its initiative to provide recycled tables and benches to public parks in the Grand Rapids area. Last year ADAC Automotive Inc. of Grand Rapids was the corporate sponsor with Bata, and the first year, Bata itself donated the table and bench.

Bata, one of the largest plastics recycling companies in West Michigan, is a 15-year-old family-owned business that occupies a former Steelcase industrial facility on 40th Street SE. The company’s dedication to sustainable business practices led it to achieve LEED Silver certification for its renovated facility, where scrap plastics are processed for re-use.

When Bata first became involved with the city of Grand Rapids, Mayor George Heartwell encouraged the Hammonds to help educate the public about the value of recycling.

“Here we are, a city that provides free curbside recycling, and only 60 percent of our households take advantage of it,” said Heartwell. “That means the other 40 percent are taking plastic, paper, glass and tins and disposing of them” in the trash that goes to a landfill, he said. “And they’re paying for it,” he added, referring to the tags residents must purchase in order for their trash bags to be picked up by the city.

“Why everyone doesn’t use curbside recycling, I don’t know. But I challenged Lee and Matt (Hammond) to really help us educate the public and get the word out. This is a piece in response,” said Heartwell.

“At a time of constrained public resources, our partnership with Bata Plastics provides an excellent opportunity to make a difference in the community where we live and work,” said Steve Peterson, executive vice president and CFO of Cascade Engineering.

“It’s also an opportunity to illustrate the good things that can happen when West Michigan businesses with a shared commitment to sustainability act on their common vision.”

Bata’s relationship with Cascade Engineering began with Bata buying Cascade’s industrial scrap plastics left over from the injection molding process. After processing by Bata, some of that plastic ends up back at Cascade Engineering for use in other products.