Environmental consulting in Maryland may seem a long way removed from China and from film extrusion, bottle blow molding and plastics recycling in the western African nation of Liberia. Not for Joseph E. Williamson.
Williamson, a 47-year-old Liberian native who has lived, studied and worked in the United States for 27 years, founded Kayco Environmental Corp. consulting firm in Forest Hill, Md., in 2000, along with his wife, Kirsten. But he retains strong ties to his home country, where he also operates Krystal Clear Mineral Water Co., and where he has ambitious plastics-related expansion plans.
Those growth plans are what led Williamson to China, in search of low-cost plastics processing machinery. He has purchased a high-speed film extrusion machine and six form-fill-seal pouch-making machines from Wenzhou Yanfeng Commerce Trade Co. Ltd. in Wenzhou, and expects those units to ship in early May.
The extrusion line is designed to run 800-millimeter-wide high and low density polyethylene film.
Williamson also plans soon to order a fully automated, stretch blow molding machine and a separate preform molding unit from another Chinese supplier, so he can start making his own PET bottles in Liberia. He said he has had talks with Zhejiang Hongzhen Machine Mould Group Co. Ltd. in Taizhou, and Jiangsu Black Leopard Machinery Manufacturing Co. Ltd. in Jiangyin City.
And then, to close the loop, he also wants to get into plastic bottle recycling.
``There's a need for it [in Liberia],'' Williamson said. ``There's a lot of garbage all over Monrovia. Someone needs to engage it.'' He plans to recycle his own industrial scrap, but that will not provide enough feedstock, so he also plans to buy scrap plastic from the public.
Williamson was interviewed April 13 at an altitude of about 37,000 feet over the North Pole, half-way through a flight from Newark, N.J., to Beijing. He was on his way to the huge Canton Fair trade show in Guangzhou to inspect the assembled film line he had ordered.
Krystal Clear Mineral Water is based in Elwa Junction, near the capital city of Monrovia, in the nation of 3.38 million people that sits by the Atlantic Ocean, between CÃ´te d'Ivoire and Sierra Leone. Wracked for years by civil war, the country now is trying to rebuild amidst a fragile peace that took hold five years ago.
Williamson owns a plant about 30 miles away, in Duala, that he plans to start renovating in June. Once done, the two facilities will swap roles, with the larger Duala facility temporarily becoming the headquarters and assuming the manufacturing duties.
That is until Williamson can build a new factory on land that he owns in either Brewerville or Gardnersville, each roughly equidistant between his two current sites. He hopes to have the new plant open ``by the end of dry season,'' which would be this coming December or January.
In all, he expects to invest about 200 million Liberian dollars, or US$3.3 million, on the machinery, expansions and upgrades.
In 2004, Williamson bought Krystal Clear's first form-fill-seal machine, conveying system and water-filtration system from Equipment Express in Rolling Prairie, Ind. He imported PE film from Ghana and began making 500-milliliter pouches and filled them with purified water.
He explained that pouches of water are popular in Africa, because they are cheaper than bottled water.
Two of his production lines can turn out a total of about 4,500 filled pouches per hour. Producers like Williamson often package 30 of the filled, half-liter pouches into larger sacks and sell them wholesale to street vendors. The 35-employee Krystal Clear uses three of its own trucks to deliver its 30-pouch sacks, which cost about 65-80 Liberian dollars, or US$1.06-$1.31 each.
Users now need to cut off the corner of the pouch to access the drinking water, but Williamson hopes eventually to add a perforating machine to his production line, to make it easier to tear off the corner.
Williamson has other plans, as well. He said he already has purchased a liquid filling and conveying system that he plans to use to package flavored water that can be frozen much like a popsicle. And he said Krystal Clear, which also makes cubed ice that it sells in 5-pound bags, intends within the next couple of months to acquire a machine that will be able to produce 10 tons of block ice a day.
Block ice is used in Africa for cold storage.