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CarbonLite to build PET recycling plant in Texas

By: Catherine Kavanaugh

October 17, 2013

Plastic beverage bottles will find new life at a $40 million plant to be built in Abilene, Texas, as CarbonLite Industries LLC, gets ready to add a second facility to process post-consumer PET.

Construction will begin later this year on the bottle-to-bottle plant that will employ 100 people and take in about 1.6 billion used bottles a year. The bottles will be turned into a high-grade raw material to make new bottles for Nestle Waters North America, according to CarbonLite.

CarbonLite co-founder and CEO Leon Farahnik checked out the latest washing and sorting systems and other kinds of recycling equipment for the proposed facility at the K 2013 trade fair in Düsseldorf, Germany.

“I’m here to see what’s new in the industry, which is what the K show is all about,” Farahnik said in a phone interview on Oct. 17, adding, “I love what I do.”

When CarbonLite opened its first plant in Riverside, Calif., in late 2011, company officials heralded “the end of the disposables age, and the beginning of the ‘remakeables’ age.”

Nestle and PepsiCo Inc. are the main customers buying recycled PET from the $58 million California plant, which has 130 employees who reprocess more than 2 billion, or 100 million pounds, of used plastics bottles a year.

The Texas plant will have capacity to reprocess 80 million pounds of used bottles annually. Production is scheduled to begin in late 2014.

“That will make us one of the largest [bottle-to-bottle] recyclers in the world, but that’s not our goal,” Farahnik said. “We just want to do the right thing for the environment and the future of recycling.”

Farahnik said the average U.S. recycling rate for PET is just below 30 percent with some sates as low as 10 percent and those with bottle deposit laws topping out at about 65 percent.

“Fifty years from now they will dig through landfills to take out products and they will look at us and ask, ‘How could you throw that away?’” Farahnik said.

Increasing recycled content is the only real answer to single-use plastic bottles, CarbonLite co-founder and President Neville Browne said in announcement about the second plant and its first customer. Nestle will buy recycled plastic for its brand of natural spring water called Ozarka, which is bottled in Texas near Abilene.

CarbonLite also supplies PET pellets to Nestle for its half-liter Arrowhead ReBorn water bottles from its California facility. At 220,000-square feet, it is the largest plastic bottle recycling plant in the United States. The bottles are made of 50 percent recycled content from curbside and deposit collections.

“The most sustainable bottle of all is the one made from earlier generations of itself,” Browne said in a statement.

CarbonLite officials were looking at the East Coast for their second plant until Nestle Waters decided to expand its recycled-content program in Texas.

Nestle Waters is the third largest non-alcoholic beverage company by volume in the United States and it offers a long list of healthy beverages under a variety of brand names, including Deer Park, Pure Life and Poland Spring.

Heidi Paul, executive vice president of corporate affairs for Nestle Waters, describes the goal of using more recycled content in bottles as a “virtuous circle.”

“It reduces the need for virgin plastic, reduces the carbon impact of each bottle and encourages people to recycle more,” Paul said in a statement.

CarbonLite officials expect other major beverage companies to embrace the closed-loop commitment. They are eyeing the East Coast for their third bottle-to-bottle recycling plant.