At last year’s
Housewares show, Bissell Homecare Inc. (Grand Rapids, MI, U.S.;
www.bissell.com) made headlines with its Little Green multipurpose
compact deep cleaner that used 10% post consumer reprocessed (PCR)
plastic. But even then, the company knew it could do better.
to Scott Boles, Bissell’s director of global quality: “We decided,
‘We’re going to launch what we have, but that’s not good enough. Let’s
put a product development team together to make a product that is at
least 50% reprocessed material.’”
that goal involved a lot more than the company initially bargained for.
Specifically, the vacuum manufacturer had to get all of the recycled
plastic it intended to use to build the vacuum’s main housings and base
certified by UL—something the 133-year-old company never had to do
before. “We are an OEM, not a material formulator,” Boles explains. “So
we had to find out all of the actions that were needed to qualify our
Wearing a New Hat
most appliance manufacturing applications, plastic comes from the
suppliers already certified. In other words, OEMs never have to think
about it. The only material certification issue they have to worry
about is staying within the 20% regrind threshold to keep their product
However, because Bissell wanted to
use 100% postconsumer plastic to make components that housed electrical
components, it had to go through the entire material certification and
testing process. This required about $20,000 to qualify two materials
and nine months of education. Boles quips: “When the project was
finished, our UL contact shook our compliance person’s hand and said,
‘You are now in the material processing business.’”
OEM’s first step? Find a resin reprocessor and get that facility UL
certified. “We did the research and visited the supplier to make sure
they were set up for the UL audit,” Boles tells APPLIANCE. Fortunately,
the supplier already had most of the controls in place and really only
needed to update its paperwork. “Some documentation was missing, so we
just really focused on making sure the processes were documented
correctly,” Boles says.
Once the reprocessor
passed the UL audit, Bissell then went through the proper procedures to
have the reprocessed materials qualified. However, this involved more
than simply testing the material and declaring it certified or
uncertified. “UL requires that suppliers run three lots of materials so
that there is control and consistency in material properties, with very
little variation,” Boles explains.
As part of
this process, materials have to meet about eight different physical
properties, which include tests such as flammability and impact
resistance. “We had to make duplicate plaques to compare all the lots,”
Boles explains. Also, once the material is approved, it then has to go
through the entire process again, this time as the molded components in
According to Boles, it was well
worth both the time and effort. “We think it makes a difference, and we
need to do what we need to do to save the environment,” he says. “We
don’t have to take oil out of the ground to make the virgin resins to
make this product. We are able to use what has been returned to us.
It’s about reusing our resources.”
two materials Bissell had qualified were polypropylene and ABS resins.
For the sake of efficiency, Bissell simply had its supplier find
materials that matched the specifications of its UL-rated virgin resins
and match those properties to the reprocessed plastic. “They took the
material, tested it, and chose the additives,” Boles says. “It’s not an
easy process. You have to keep materials consistent, but additives
aren’t free. It’s a balancing act. But they did their black magic and
got the properties to where they needed to be.”
challenges didn’t end once the materials were certified. When
manufacturing the new floor-care cleaner, Bissell found it was
difficult to achieve clarity and color consistency. “Virgin resin is
very uniform,” Boles says. “It is either all white or clear, and it
mixes well. With reprocessed material, you may have a white recycled
component or a green component. You have to pick and choose to make
sure color is consistent and that you don’t get imperfections like
The OEM’s aesthetic goal was to
make the 50% reprocessed Little Green vacuum look as close to its
predecessor as possible. That was no easy task, according to Boles.
“Maybe we had on rose-colored glasses,” he says.
first manufacturing approach the company took was sending the base
material to the molder to blend the color at the molding machine.
However, Bissell found that each machine mixed the color differently.
That led to a second approach, which involved precoloring the base
resin during compounding and then sending that material to the molder.
This strategy, combined with specialized blending equipment developed
by Bissell’s supplier, created the consistent color that the company
company uses every bit of its PCR plastic but has to supplement about
30% from non-Bissell material streams to make its latest Little Green
model. Boles says that finding available material for opaque plastics
has been the biggest challenge, but the manufacturer has been able to
work with a recycler to reuse refrigerator interior door panels,
computer panels, and printer panels.
the reprocessed material can be found in the floorcare cleaner’s main
housings, base housings, float stack, accessory tools, and exterior
plastic parts. Long term, Bissell would like to certify V-rated PCR
material to make the units even greener. “These are more-engineered
plastics and are hard to get certified because they house actual
electrical components, such as motor housings,” Boles says.
now, Bissell plans to use its knowledge and experience with Little
Green and apply it to as many of its other products as possible. “We
are going to go after this thing and stay after it,” Boles says. “But
we are going after it in a smart, strategic way—leverage what we have
and move forward.”