Economic Impact

“It’s Something I Can Be Proud Of”

Cody Anderson holds a role unique to recycling operations… his business card might read “Receiving Manager,” but arguably “Human Scanner” might be more appropriate.

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“At this point, I’m a human scanner. I can look at – or even smell – any kind of plastic and be able to tell what it is and if it should be allowed into our recycling operations.”

“We pull in two million pounds of plastic a week, and I keep track of all of it,” said Cody Anderson, receiving manager at plastics recycler Ultra-Poly.

He’s being modest; Cody and his team don’t just keep track of all that plastic, at least not in the way that any of us understand what it means to “keep track” of something. It’s more like they receive, inspect, test, accept or reject and then keep track of all that material before it gets recycled.

As receiving supervisor at Ultra-Poly, Cody leads the team at the front lines of the facility. Think of them as airport security for plastics recycling—they make sure that nothing that’s not supposed to get into the facility gets into the facility. Cody and his team diligently inspect each bale, roll or box to identify its contents, ensure that it’s the right material and make certain it doesn’t contain imperfections or contaminants.

Spotting these things and making sure they don’t get into the facility isn’t some minor detail. If material erroneously gets past Cody and is allowed in the facility, there can be big consequences—machines and, in some cases, even the entire operation have to be shut down if Cody and his team don’t catch all those contaminants before they’re introduced into the process. Even a small amount of cardboard within a bale could cause more than two hours of downtime, which means time loss, product loss and ultimately profit loss.

Don’t worry though. After 16 years in recycling, Cody’s gotten pretty good at spotting contamination in the materials they receive. Some might say he’s gotten too good.

“At this point, I’m a human scanner,” he said. “I can look at pretty much any kind of plastic and give you a good guess of what it is. In some cases I can even tell by the smell of it,” he added, noting that he can identify certain specific polymers by smell. For instance, Ultra-Poly’s facility isn’t set up to handle polyvinyl chloride (PVC), but they still receive it sometimes. Luckily, Anderson is there to sniff it out. “It smells like a pool liner or a shower curtain so that’s one way I’m able to find it and pull it out,” he said.

When Anderson started at Ultra-Poly he didn’t plan to be there long. His first role was cutting rolls of plastic to be fed into the recycling machines, but he eventually worked his way up to operating an extruder—which is partly where he developed his keen sense of smell, but also a sense for how contaminated material impacts the company and its workers. “When I was an extruder operator, if anything bad got into my extruder, it made my job harder,” he said. Now, after working his way up to receiving supervisor, he leads a group of five teams who make sure things like that don’t happen.

Aside from developing an eye, and a nose, for plastics, Cody’s time at Ultra-Poly has also given a new appreciation for the impact recycling has, and the direct impact he gets to make on the environment every day.

“Nearly two million pounds of material a week could be dumped in a landfill, but because of what I do it can be used again,” he said. “That’s something I can be proud of.”

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