Business with a sense of (re)purpose Born as a result of the downturn in the global economy in the 1990s, today, recycler Bridgefields Resources is growing in leaps and bounds in an industry that serves to fill the gaps left by the escalating prices and short supply of virgin rubber material. But not all recycled materials are equal, says Managing Director Asmipudin (Asmi in short) Ali, who gives an informed view of how the company is meeting the needs of the demanding customer base with quality material.
lobal demand for rubber gloves is increasing by 12% due to demand and consumption, according to major rubber analysts. Increasing throughput and capacity may boost the potential to cater to a larger market demand but along with this production comes a higher number of rejects. Bridgefields is providing the link in the chain by collecting scrap gloves, among other rubber scraps, which otherwise would end up in landfills, and processing them into rubber materials for end-use applications such as carpet underlays, shoes, leathers, basketballs and sporting goods, to name a few.
Green product Its main scrap material collected being NR, 80% of the recycled material Bridgefields produces is based on NR and the remainder is from synthetic rubber. The company’s turnover for NR recycling is RM8-12 million, with 5-8% of this invested into R&D every year, adds Asmi. While the physical properties of its Greenviro product depends on feedstocks used, which not only include rubber gloves but also rubber threads, catheters, Asmipudin Ali, Managing condoms and various types of Director of Bridgefields, latex scraps, the main product says the company is it offers is NRG (natural rubber planning to move to a new glove) 9OP. The 90 denotes that it facility over the next two years is a premium grade. Other varying grades offered include NRG 90HG – HG denoting that it is high grade with a tensile strength of 18.8 Mpa and of a natural black colour. Also produced is a fine particle-size grade for extrusion only. Claiming Greenviro to be “odourless and sweetsmelling”, Asmi says market acceptance of the product has been “good”.
Scrap no more Located in Menglembu, Ipoh, Perak, Bridgefields started off in 1995 recycling tyres and selling tyre crumbs for making heavy-duty carpets for golf clubs and airports. Now, it has branched out to recycling gloves. “We don’t do any sorting. We only crush all the materials that are collected,” said Asmi, adding that large glove makers in Malaysia, like Supermax, supply the scrap material. “By not engaging in any sorting activities, we guarantee that all the waste material is reprocessed and this protects a company’s primary product integrity.” The company employs a recycling technology, purported to be the first and only one in Malaysia, that depolymerises rubber scraps without degrading the properties. “Bridgefields is in a class of its own. It is amongst the new breed of recyclers that use chemical and mechanical depolymerisation, without autoclaving.” The technology was actually developed as a result of the challenges faced by Bridgefields. It had to wind up in 2000 after succumbing to the 1997 economic crisis. It returned from the ashes, so to speak, in 2004, just when the prices of recycled materials went up amidst the shortage of virgin material supply. The company moved into its facility in Ipoh, invested in R&D and, assisted by the Malaysian Rubber Board, developed a standard recipe for recycling that did not require autoclaving (as this degrades the rubber to about 50% of its original properties). Since it only requires water treatment, the method is more environmentally friendly and does not emit any hazardous gases, says Asmi, adding that the company also makes its chemicals in-house. In recognition of this, Bridgefields has been awarded the SW321 licence to collect and process scheduled waste scrap rubber.
Potential in synthetic rubber recycling Bridgefields also recycles nitrile butadiene rubber (NBR) gloves. “Our biggest buyer for recycled NBR is a shoe maker from Ecuador,” says Asmi. “We see a trend for NBR because NR is becoming expensive and manufacturers are switching to NBR,” he adds. NR’s high prices are due to weather fluctuations (that affect the supply) as well as speculative trading (that creates a volatile pricing trend of the commodity). The latter threatens profit margins of manufacturers that are dependent on NR and in some industry sectors, such as gloves, producers are switching to the synthetic variety. This switchover will also serve to buffer against a not-sobright scenario for NR supply in years to come. According to the Association of Natural Rubber Producing Countries (ANRPC), marginal growth of up to 3.8% is expected for NR next year and this will increase by a moderate 6% by 2015. Further, global supply of NR is expected to start slowing down 3
rubber journal ASIA • OCTOBER / NOVEMBER 2011
Plastics and Rubber Asia October-November 2011 electronic issue