‘Bigfoot’ baler now assisting farm and marina recycling efforts

COURTESY PHOTO | The BF-400 plastic baler, used recently at North Fork Nursery in Jamesport, turns plastic removed from a greenhouse into recyclable four-foot cubes.

Bigfoot is not only real, he lives in Suffolk County and he’s really into recycling.

The Bigfoot 400, a plastic baler with an automatic feed that can suck plastic off greenhouses and shrink-wrapped boats, recently made its debut at the North Fork Nursery in Jamesport.

One of only four BF-400s in the country, the machine converts plastic into a cube roughly four feet square and weighing 1,000 pounds, which can easily be recycled and provide revenue for its owner. That’s what Paul TeNyenhuis, district manager of the Suffolk Soil and Water Conservation District, hoped for when his department purchased the baler in February 2011.

Not all farms recycle the thousands of pounds of plastic used annually on hoop houses, which helps plants grow before the warmth of spring, Mr. TeNyenhuis said. Much of the old plastic is simply thrown out.

“Recycling the plastic will also create revenue for our department, which has incurred budget cuts year after year after year,” he said.

The department doesn’t expect to make much money from the baler’s operations this year, as the machine needed repairs to get it in working condition.

“Initially we had problems getting it started,” Mr. TeNyenhuis said. “There was rust in the tank from sitting idly for a year, which ended up clogging the engine.”

The device also wasn’t insured until last August, too late to capture the season’s plastic waste.

“Evidently a lot of insurance companies don’t want to cover you if you only have one machine,” he added. “They want to cover you if you have a fleet.”

Mr. TeNyenhuis said once the machine got running, it “worked beautifully,” and despite being too late to collect all the nursery’s plastic, the baler’s maiden voyage yielded 13,000 pounds.

The program’s goal is to collect 40,000 pounds of plastic a year, enough to fill a tractor-trailer, which will be picked up by APC Recycling of Connecticut.

Mr. TeNyenhuis called the baler’s first time outing to the North Fork Nursery “a learning experience.” The nursery was not charged for the service, though the district asked to keep the plastic.

In the future he expects to rent out the machine and operator at $100 per day and share some plastic revenues with the cooperating renters.

North Fork Nursery owner and operator Joe Lebkeucher said he would pay to rent the baler’s services next year.

“I would rent it, but I wouldn’t buy one of those things,” he said. “They cost almost $38,000.”

As is the case with many large and expensive machines, this one claims to be labor-saving device.

“It usually takes, from what I understand, 10 to 12 guys to pull the plastic from a hoop house and get it into the dumpsters,” said Mr. TeNyenhuis. “And they have to do house after house after house. With the plastic baler, I’ve got one guy driving the tractor and one guy feeding the machine.”

The baler makes 30-foot slices along the sides of a hoop house with one-foot perforations between them. The corner of the plastic is lifted up and fed into the machine.

“The baler pulls the plastic right off the house,” Mr. TeNyenhuis said. “Those one-foot pieces holding it down mean nothing to the baler; it just sucks it right in.”

The pulled-off plastic never touches the ground, meaning the recycler needn’t worry about dirt. Even so, “The baler can pull plastic off the ground, too, if that’s what it needs to do,” Mr. TeNyenhuis said.

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