In the US, a beverage package recycling company, Can Cylor Equipment, is launching equipment that could pave the way for new industry standards.The company now has devised a way of crushing plastic soda bottles efficiently, and Lingbeck says his company is putting an automated crusher on the market at the beginning of August. The trick is to puncture the bottles first to let air escape.
"To tell you the truth, I was really going to retire," said Gary Linbeck when he discussed the sale of his successful electronics business in April 2001. During his career, he had worked to start up companies almost as a hobby.
Shortly after retiring, an inventor from Minnesota, contacted him about a steel can crushing machine he was already producing in small quantities. Lingbeck saw potential, studied its likely markets and took himself out of retirement.
He bought the patent rights and put Can Cyclor in business in January 2002. It now operates from a storefront in Minnesota. Lingbeck doesn't need a large plant for what he calls almost a "virtual company."
The company started with a "recycling station" designed for No. 10 steel cans, which typically contain bulk foods. Restaurants, kitchens for dining halls or other food service operations use them. Some foods processors also could be customers.
The machine uses a motorised ram to collapse the can end-to-end while it is laying on its side. While the inventor brainstormed the machine, Lingbeck revised it to meet food sanitation standards with stainless steel and cleaning features before going to market.
Since then, he also has developed his own beverage can crusher that compacts the can lengthwise, from top to bottom. With a capacity of 80 cans a minute, the machine is targeted at vending machine lounges and high-volume areas such as school cafeterias and stadiums.
But Lingbeck says there are broader markets to pursue. Can Cyclor's core niche is making recycling more convenient and efficient at point-of-use.
Recently, he started selling an aluminum can crusher for homes or small businesses direct to the consumer. Operated with a hand-lever, the newest recycler collapses the can and it slides by gravity into a hidden slot for a container that can hold as many as 400 smashed cans.
Lingbeck is a distributor for the container, which is made by a Twin Cities firm. It sells for about €60. Can Cyclor has sold 100 to 150 in the first two months, he said.
The entrepreneur is also expecting to extend the lines within a year with two more products now under development, he said. Can Cyclors could grow to $2 million (€2m) to $2.5 million in annual sales within about five years, Lingbeck added.