From plastic bags to piping for irrigation

Huge bundles of used  plastic arrive at the factory.
Huge bundles of used plastic arrive at the factory. / MIGUE FERNÁNDEZ
  • Malaga-based Replasur uses a thousand tonnes of material provided by industrial launderettes and packaging companies for its products every year

Plastic, above all when used for shopping bags, has lately become the environment's public enemy number one. Ecologists and governments alike have turned their focus to the control of plastic distribution, with negative consequences for marine life at the forefront of their minds. However, companies that make the most of the positive side to this supposedly damned product also exist. This is the case for Malaga-based Replasur, a company founded almost 40 years ago, dedicated to using recycled plastic for the production of kilometres of piping for countryside irrigation. The Replasur plant on the Santa Teresa industrial estate stamps out the circulation of a thousand tonnes of this material every year.

"Everybody is against the plastic bag, but we cannot deny that it is an economic and technologically important product, which creates jobs and is not to blame for the way in which we mistreat it and throw it to the sea. It is us who use it badly." José Luis Delgado, owner of Replasur, defends the raw material, following a life dedicated to reuse within the plastic industry, having been in charge of various factories for almost half a century.

According to Delgado, the business has its origins in a time of plastic shortage. One of his first businesses was a packaging factory, back in Franco's era. "Supplies of the raw material were running low, so I started this company to gather resources." For decades Delgado produced bottles and containers for oil companies and bleach factories, opening plants in Granada and Seville, both sold years ago. In the end, there were two businesses: one dedicated to recycling and the other to the production of piping for irrigation.

In order to work, the company mainly uses plastic bags, film and packaging from factories. The easiest thing would be to obtain these from town rubbish tips, which of course have the largest deposits. However, the veteran business owner criticises how these facilities are controlled by the company Ecoembes, which has monopolised the industry. "Plastic has a value, and the economy comes before the environment," says Delgado.

As a result, Replasur has created its own network for obtaining the raw material and the company has agreements with industrial launderettes, which use thousands of large plastic bags for clothes from hotels across the provincial capital and Costa del Sol. The company also receives regular contributions from packaging businesses, committed to the collection and sale of these materials.

Recycled polythene

The number of people working at the plant fluctuates between ten and fifteen people, depending on the workload, and runs 24 hours a day. The process starts with the classification and cleaning of the huge bundles of plastic, made up of shopping bags, bags for clothes, sacks and all kinds of packaging. Interestingly, packaging such as bottles is never used.

The plastic is classified in order to remove parts which are not useful, before it is ground, washed, centrifuged and dried. It later passes to a machine which converts the raw material into little black pieces: recycled polythene.

These are then introduced to a chain of automatic production which moulds millions of kilometres of irrigation piping for the countryside, with different diameters and pressure capacities. In order to save water, the company has already incorporated a dropper with a flow of 2.5 litres per minute into one of its products. The company distributes all the necessary components for agricultural work, and even the necessary technology for long-distance management, with applications for programming and activating the irrigation system from a mobile. It also offers advice on farm production plans. Sales depend on the season and weather, and vary according to droughts or the abundance of water.

The company, the only one of its kind in Malaga, also has a third side to it: the production of caps for bottles. It currently distributes to the whole of Andalucía and Morocco. "Our work is of great social value because we clear a lot of plastic waste; look at how rubbish can be transformed," José Luis Delgado, concludes, suggesting a more positive way of looking at the notorious plastic bag.