Joe Brooks, chairman and CEO of Advanced Environmental Recycling Technologies Inc. in Springdale, believes his company’s future growth depends upon re-engineering trashed plastic into composites for specific, prescribed customer applications.
That new side of his company has developed quietly during the past few years, and he expects it to grow bigger than the business AERT is known for: weatherproof building materials for decks and other outdoor woodwork features made from recycled wood and plastic waste.
“It could get real exciting real fast, if the economy recovers,” Brooks said. “The decking products are still the lion’s share of what we’re doing, but I believe in three years the resin side could be twice the size the decking is.”
Brooks, 56, helped found AERT in 1989. He is a graduate of the University of Arkansas. Prior to starting AERT, the Springdale native served in executive positions at the Springdale businesses Razorback Farms and Southern Minerals & Fibers Inc.
Brooks took on the role of AERT’s CEO in 2005, in time to lead the company through a major economic recession and the depressed construction industry that came with it, as well as to re-envision the company’s future in the field of plastic recycling technology.
In 2010, the company saw a net loss of $5.9 million, which was worse than its 2009 loss by about 17 percent.
“It’s been literal hell in the last four years,” Brooks said last week, and its stock price has reflected that. Delisted from Nasdaq more than two years ago, the stock trades on the OTC Bulletin Board at about 7.5 cents per share. Even the Brooks family’s stock — nearly 14 million shares — are worth only about $1 million on the public market.
“Now things are moving again in the right direction,” Brooks said. “The right direction” involved investors pouring $50 million back into the company, he said, and AERT developing new technology that adds business that isn’t as seasonal as the selling of decking materials. That new technology sorts plastic waste by chemical composition so that it can be separated, processed and made into useful resin compounds.
The technology, which is among the 22 U.S. patents Brooks is listed as holding, is a modified system from a pharmaceutical drug packaging lab. The equipment allows AERT to take bundles of garbage, shake out the mess of non-plastic items, and efficiently sort out the 25 to 30 percent of typical trash that is plastic and isn’t recycled. Then, the plastic can be cleaned and remade.
The technology provides “both the ability to identify these mixed materials to see what’s there and the ability to put them back together in usable forms commercially,” Brooks said.
The resulting compounds, sold to manufacturers in pellet form, can be used to create a variety of products, such as watering containers for commercial chicken houses and plastic sheets to wrap bales of cotton, Brooks said.
Brooks said he expects positive changes in the company’s next few quarters as the resin production launches. Among those changes could include adding jobs in Springdale and Oklahoma, and eventually opening a new plant, he said.
“Everybody’s really excited,” Brooks said. “I’m proud of the fact that this group of associates held it together, stayed out of bankruptcy and is now moving forward.”
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