February 10, 2011 by wcobserver
You don’t have to look further than Greenland to see how one entrepreneurial company is turning plastic and wood waste into gardening products.
Just off I-540 in a non-descript building that you probably drive by most every day, about 75 temporary and full time employees transform waste that was once destined for a landfill into gardening boxes and gardening stones for a variety of retailers including Wal-mart and Sam’s Club, which is no small feat even for someone with the right kind of connections.
Greenland Composites is owned by Burt Hannah, who is more widely known for his candles than for turning plastic shopping bags, discarded shrink wrap and wood waste into a composite material.
“For the most part, the major materials are all recycled,” said Tim Moore who smiles with a boyish grin when asked what his title is. “We don’t go much on titles. You could probably call me plant manager…I’ve been called a lot of things,” he says with a laugh.
Moore says the company purchases its plastic from a number of sources including West Fork’s Renewable Resource Center, but that the majority of it is purchased from Walmart who encourages its customers to return their used plastic bags to receptacles at the front of its stores to be recycled.
Paul Libor, a volunteer at the Renewable Resource Center said he drove 1,275 pounds of plastic bags there last year, saying it sure beats driving them someplace else.
Unexpectedly a full-sized front-loader zipped across the plant floor, driving up to a mountainous heap of what looks like dark, rich dirt that actually turns out to be “leftovers” of the manufacturing process that have been ground up.
“One of the neat things is that we reuse all remnants and parts from their manufacturing; it all goes back into the mix,” explained Moore.
Moore says the company has gone through many stages since it was first formed about seven years ago and got its start by making parts that were used in the manufacturing of doors and windows. The company still makes these parts as well as other customized parts for original equipment manufacturers.
Moore said it was Hannah’s son, Jake, that came up with the idea of creating an easy-to-assemble gardening box after he and his dad got frustrated trying to put together two gardening boxes one afternoon and thus the “Greenland Gardener” brand was born.
But taking that idea and turning it into reality which included designing and building custom machinery and a full manufacturing process was all in the details for Moore and Mike Barnett, who is officially referred to as “engineering manager.”
According to Moore, all of the machinery in the 39,000 square foot plant has been retrofitted or custom engineered by Barnett, who lives in Greenland…most of it on crunch timing.
“Let’s see if it’s feasible to do, go out and sell it and then figure out how to make it,” Moore says of Hannah’s entrepreneurial spirit.
In the case of the gardening stones, Moore said that was another Burt Hannah idea. He said they’d figured out how to make a realistic looking stone from the same raw materials used in their other products, but the process was pretty crude and labor intensive and the stones still weighed two and a half pounds each.
“It was weird; we were there [Wal-mart headquarters] on a candle call,” explains James Gleghorn, who works alongside Hannah to sell and market their products. Gleghorn said that before he knew it, he was retrieving his only “Smart Stone” out of the trunk of his car in the parking lot.
“We had just made it; he [a Wal-mart buyer] showed it to others and they loved the sustainability aspect,” said Gleghorn who returned from his candle call with the news for Moore that the stones had been sold and they needed a way to manufacture them.
“It’s pretty tense to figure out how to build it when it’s already sold,” said Moore, but it’s evident he’s passionate about his work and enjoys the challenge.
Moore said they retrofitted used machinery from other industries and built others from the “ground-up” to mass-produce the stones.
“It’s a way to get you into products and things you wouldn’t go out to do if you had to go out and buy these machines new,” said Moore.
The first batches of “Smart Stones” were hand-pressed and Moore said they could churn out only 1000 stones each week. But in time, Barnett created an entire manufacturing line that now cranks out 36,000 stones each work week.
“Last year, we were literally shipping what we made that week on Friday,” said Moore.
“You can see it before your eyes…from raw materials to finished product,” said Moore walking through the cavernous plant as machinery stamped out lines of stones that are then hand-stained in colors of gray and browns.
Gleghorn says about 30-40 plastic bags go into each stone and about 25-30 plastic bags go into each pound of material used in their gardening boxes.
“These are strong enough, they’ll hold up, won’t crack in winter,” said Gleghorn of the stones and gardening beds, which are remarkably lightweight.
And getting back to Jack Hannah’s original vision of a raised gardening box that’s easy to assemble?
“You can literally put those together in about 30 seconds,” said Gleghorn who said they once had to assemble them while being timed to sell them to a buyer.
Moore sounds a little like a commercial as he explains how easy gardening can be with one of their raised boxes. But he also shares his secret for creating the perfect soil. Moore recommends lining the beds with a weed fabric and then custom mixing a soil made of one-third each of vermiculite, peat moss and compost. He jokes that the soil mix will cost more than the gardening box which retails between $30 and $40 depending on where you buy it and whether you buy a single or a double box kit.
Gleghorn said the company also sells a seed kit, although it’s not made in Greenland, which comes with a fool-proof layout and seeds that tell the novice gardener exactly what to plant where in its box to create a salsa or a vegetable garden.
You can check out Greenland Composites’ “Greenland Gardener” products and get gardening tips at www.greenlandgardener.com. A single raised box is available locally at Ozark Natural Foods in Fayetteville and Gleghorn said a double box is available at Sam’s Club now.
And stay tuned…the Washington County Observer, now armed with its own gardening boxes and the salsa/vegetable seed kit will try its hand at easy gardening this summer on N.Centennial Avenue.