Wellman Inc. still touts itself as the world's largest PET recycler. But the company no longer sells much post-consumer PET to plastics processors.
"It got too unprofitable," said John Hobson, vice president of fibers and recycled products. Wellman has restructured its recycling operations over the last few years and now uses nearly all of its recycled PET in fiber manufacturing.
"We closed Day Products in [Bridgeport] New Jersey, which sold all of its production outside, and [Johnsonville] South Carolina was part of it," Hobson said.
The Shrewsbury, N.J.-based company estimated its 1999 sales to processors at $25 million, which ranked 10th in Plastics News' survey last year. In 2000 those sales dropped to an estimated $7.5 million and account for just 15 percent of Wellman's total recycling-related sales. The remainder comes from fiber production.
The drop-off came by design. In early 1999, Wellman closed Day Products, which had sold all of its post-consumer PET to outside customers. At the time, some of the equipment was sent down to the South Carolina plant.
Hobson said Wellman was still steadily losing money, because post-consumer PET was not in heavy demand from processors.
"Making recycled raw material to sell on the commercial market, we lost money on those $25 million" in 1999 sales, Hobson said. He did not elaborate on exactly how much money the business was losing.
About a year ago Wellman dissolved its Recycling Division, laying off some top managers and reassigning the remaining 350 hourly recycling employees.
Wellman still sells EcoClear-brand recycled PET to plastic bottle manufacturers. The company feels it can meet the needs of bottle makers who wish to maintain a 10-25 percent recycled content rate. But he said fibers and engineering resin markets are more dependable.
"Fiber and engineering resin customers buy products made from recycled material because they are committed to the environmental story. That helps us get the business," Hobson said. "And we have other customers who are not interested in what raw material is being used — they just want the best product and the best material, and how we make it is not of their concern."
Hobson said the latest announcement by Coca-Cola Co. to increase by four times the number of PET bottles with 10 percent recycled content should not put increased pressure on Wellman to boost production of Eco-Clear. If demand should increase, Hobson said Wellman will be as equipped as its competitors.
"We will take a share of the demand," he said. "We will increase our overall bottle-washing capacity, [and] we are also making internal adjustments to meet quality requirements."