July 23, 2013
MBA Polymers Inc. is moving across the pond.
The durable goods recycler is closing its current headquarters and pilot-scale plant in Richmond, Calif., and moving operations to the company's 126,000-square-foot facility in Worksop, England. Along with hosting MBA's R&D work, Worksop will become the company's new headquarters.
At least for now, said President Mike Biddle in a July 17 phone interview.
"[The United Kingdom] is the center of our concentration today. I hope that changes in the future," Biddle said. "I intend to make that change and have the U.S. be a major part of our business, I hope, in the coming years."
MBA plans to open a full-scale production plant in the United States. However, it's too soon to discuss particulars like where the plant will be located or when it will open, Biddle said.
"I'm literally almost every day talking to different suppliers about how we might work together to get material" and get things done, he said.
MBA's Worksop plant currently has reprocessing capacity of 60,000 metric tons per year, but should expand to full capacity, 80,000 metric tons per year, by the middle of 2014.
Around that same time, the company will be in a position to start getting serious about putting something in place in the United States, Biddle said.
MBA specializes in recycling difficult waste streams; its biggest sources are auto shredder residue, electronics waste, and mixed rigid plastics like those generated by municipal solid waste streams. The company turns those materials into recycled plastic resin that can be used as a drop-in for virgin resin.
The U.S. offers access to all of those waste streams — e-waste, ASR and municipal solid waste. But to justify opening a processing in the plant, MBA needs secured access to enough of those materials, Biddle said.
There probably is not a single facility in the U.S. that will generate enough plastics by itself to justify the large capital investment required by an MBA processing plant, so the company is working to aggregate different suppliers, he said.
Biddle said that the timing is "a little odd" — simultaneously announcing plans to close their sole US facility but expand domestic domestically — but the Richmond plant is just too small to turn into a full-scale production facility.
Though based in the United States, most of MBA's work has been done overseas. The company has reprocessing plants in Worksop, Austria and China.
But some recent changes have made the U.S. "very attractive to us now," he said.
"It's an exciting time," he said. "It feels like I've been waiting for this for 20 years."
Electronics recycling, though not mandated nationwide, has greatly increased in the last 5-10 years through both voluntary and state requirements. The U.S. now recycles a substantial amount of e-waste, he said.
The EPA has recently clarified its stance of recycling auto shredder residue, giving companies like MBA the green light to extract plastics from the estimated 10 billion pounds of ASR sent landfills each year, he said.
Policies overseas, like China's "green fence" enforcement operation, will create a more level playing field for recycling in the U.S., he said.
Municipal solid waste streams are the single-biggest source of mixed plastics generated into the US. Municipal recycler facilities generally remove PET and polyethylene bottles and collect the rest in bales of mixed rigid plastics.
Those bales were often traded overseas. Overseas brokers, operating out of facilities that didn't have to adhere to the strict regulations required in the U.S., were able to pay more money for material than brokers in the U.S. Now, strict enforcement in China should prevent that from happening, he said.
"Because of all those changes, the U.S. is becoming quite interesting for us," Biddle said. "It was always interesting from the standpoint that we were founded here in the US. We're a US based company. The US is by-far the biggest generator of waste in the world per-capita … it was just a matter of us being able to get our hands on the plastic economically."
Manufacturers are also becoming more interested in using recycled plastics in their products, he said.
Recycled material is more cost effect and price stable over time. Using recycled material also offers marketing advantages, as more customers demand greener or more sustainable products, he said.
Recycled material also offers supply chain security. Manufacturers are rightly concerned with the cost of raw materials, he said. If they recycle their products in a closed-loop program, they're really only buying that material once and its returned to them to use again and again, he said.
That also ties into a growing trend of companies offering services instead of products to their customers. For example, instead of purchasing a refrigerator, a consumer would purchase refrigeration services. Every few years, or when the refrigerator breaks, the manufacturer would replace it for free, he said.