Elkhorn recycling company looks to Whitewater expansion

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Katherine Krueger
Sunday, August 11, 2013

ELKHORN--With the approval process to build a first-of-its-kind electronic recycling center that would create 80 to 100 jobs in Whitewater still ongoing, an Elkhorn business has decided to build its first plant out of state.

DP Electronic Recycling has been working with the Wisconsin Department of Natural Resources for more than a year and a half to gain approval for a plan to build a plant in the Whitewater Technology Park.

A patent is pending for the company's recycling process to turn Cathode Ray Tubes, the toxic chemical material found in older computer and television glass monitors, into durable floor tiling. Because the company will profit both from accepting CRT glass and from the sale of the finished tile, CEO Dale Helgeson said DP is losing about $1 million in potential revenue each month the operation is not running.

There are few options for recycling CRT, so DP's idea is to convert the waste into a product that is safe and useful, Helgeson said.

When DP acquired the rights to the process developed by the Catholic University of America in Washington, D.C., two years ago, the company fielded calls from across the nation, including from most major recyclers, he said.

The company still hopes to build the plant and a possible corporate headquarters in Whitewater, Helgeson said.

So far, DP has spent nearly $120,000 conducting tests on the tile and process, he said.

Because the company does not yet have approval to start CRT recycling in Wisconsin, DP is building its first plant in Arkansas. Approval for the process in that state took about three months, he said. While the approval process for Wisconsin is still in the works, the go-ahead could come as soon as this week, he said.

The company has continued to test samples of its finished tile product and work with the DNR while presenting plans to officials in Arkansas, so Helgeson said comparing the timelines in the two states is like comparing apples to oranges.

Ed Lynch, the DNR's hazardous waste program chief, said the group has approached the approval process for the plant with caution, but he said it has been “fairly straight forward.” A separate hazardous waste permit from the state is not required to start operations, but the company is seeking approval for the process under federal draft regulations through the DNR, he said.

“I think we're using a reasonable amount of caution because our mission, in part, is to protect the environment and public health,” Lynch said.

While the company already meets three of four draft federal regulations for legitimate hazardous waste recycling, the DNR still has questions about accounting for the elevated lead levels present in the tile's source material, he said.

That means DP must prove that its tile product does not contain more lead than similar products or release lead into the environment.

Despite these concerns, Lynch said the company has the green light to apply for other state permits.

Helgeson has also worked closely with Whitewater's Community Development Authority throughout the planning process, and officials are optimistic about what opening the plant could mean for the city.

CDA Chairman Jeff Knight called the CRT recycling process “revolutionary” and said he looks forward to strengthening ties with DP in the future.

“We were pretty impressed with the whole process. It's innovative and brand new … Sometimes federal and state law might not have caught up with innovation,” he said. “My gut tells me this would be good for the community and good for the area.”

The plant could also provide opportunities for UW-Whitewater students, he said.

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