Coca-Cola Co. plans to boost the recycled content of its PET bottles to 10 percent by the end of 2010, thanks in part to its new joint-venture recycling plant in Spartanburg.
``This Spartanburg plant has sufficient output to meet that demand,'' said Scott Vitters, director of sustainable packaging for Atlanta-based Coca-Cola. All of the new plant's output will be aimed at producing new bottles, Vitters said.
``From a recycled-content standpoint, we are focused on sustaining 10 percent recycled content by 2010 and 25 percent by 2015, to improve the environmental sustainability of our packaging,'' Vitters said. Coke achieved 10 percent recycled content in North America in 2004 and 2005, but since then the level has slipped to 3 percent or less.
``From a cost perspective, our focus is to continue to remain on a parity level or better'' with virgin PET resin, Vitters said. ``Long term, we would like to invest in additional capacity at Spartanburg and in additional plants.''
The plant, under construction for 18 months, will open Feb. 1. Coke invested between $45 million and $50 million in the project, including a loan and an equity stake. The plant, named New United Resource Recovery Corp. LLC, is a joint venture with Spartanburg-based recycler United Resource Recovery Corp. LLC.
To start, the plant will have the capacity to recycle 56 million pounds of food-grade PET annually, with another 44 million pounds coming on line by the end of this year or early 2010, when a second line starts production.
The Spartanburg plant will operate around the clock and initially employ 65, adding 100 workers when the second line becomes operational, according to URRC Vice President Gerry Fishbeck. When completed, it is expected to be the largest PET recycling plant in the world making food-grade resin.
Coca-Cola has similar investments in plants using URRC's Hybrid unPET technology for chemically cleaning PET flake in Mexico, France, Austria, Switzerland and the Philippines. URRC technology also is used in plants in Germany and the United Kingdom.
The Spartanburg plant will purchase virtually all of its raw materials on the open market, with 98 percent coming from curbside recycling programs.
``We will get our material where it is the most economical,'' URRC President and Chief Executive Officer Carlos Gutierrez said in an interview at the Jan. 14 plant opening.
Coke does not plan to buy all of the plant's output. ``The commitment we have is that 50-60 percent of what we make will go to Coca-Cola,'' Gutierrez said.
NURRC is in talks with blow molders Graham Packaging Co. LP, Southeastern Container Inc. and Amcor PET Packaging to purchase the remaining output, he said.
The new food-grade line and the line that will start up in a year will process clear material. Each can produce 44 million pounds of crystallized PET chips annually. The original line, built for development purposes, will process mixed colors and have a 12 million-pounds-per-year capacity. There is a separate sort-and-grind operation.
Jeff Seabright, Coca-Cola's vice president of environmental and water resources, said the Spartanburg plant is modeled after a Coke investment in a food-grade PET recycling plant built in 2005 in Toluca, Mexico.
The Spartanburg plant offers several improvements in technology over facilities that use the Hybrid unPET process, Fishbeck said. ``The technology for bale sorting is probably the latest out there,'' and is based on the concept of positive sorting, he said.
Equipment in Spartanburg looks for PET and separates it from other materials, as opposed to other technologies that ``remove things they don't want. We remove what we want,'' Fishbeck said.
The NURRC plant uses a near-infrared laser sorting machine that takes 160,000 readings per second and can examine each flake to remove contaminants. The Powersort 100 was developed by Coca-Cola and Unisensor Sensorsysteme GmbH in Karlsruhe, Germany.
Other technologies at NURRC include a dry system of recycling that eliminates the need to pre-wash bottles, developed by B+B Anlagenbau GmbH of TÃ¶nisvorst, Germany, and a dry roasting process to remove moisture that negates the need to use melt filtration to eliminate contaminants.
``We don't melt the stuff, which just typically degrades the product and makes it worse and causes it to lose some of its characteristics,'' Fishbeck said.
In addition, he said NURCC ``doesn't have to boil water or use other detergents'' to eliminate contaminants. Both of those technology differences keep operating, energy and water costs down. ``At the end of the day, the crystallized chip we make is a commodity and it has to compete with virgin,'' he said.
Separately, Coca-Cola said it began a multimillion-dollar promotional TV, print and online advertising campaign called Give It Back on Jan. 13 that's designed to give leave 1 billion impressions with consumers to recycle.
John Burgess, president and chief executive officer of Coca-Cola Recycling, said the company now has 30 recycling centers, up from seven at the end of 2007, at plants of Coca-Cola Enterprises Inc., which sells about 80 percent of the company's bottle and can volume in North America.
Burgess said the company expects to open another five to 10 centers in 2009, which should give 100 percent coverage of its operations.
Last year, CCE plants collected more than 4 million pounds of pre-consumer plastic, paperboard, shrink wrap, strapping and other materials, and he expects to collect 10 million pounds of material in the future.
Burgess said the 30 recycling centers collected and acquired 250 million pounds of materials equally split between PET and aluminum.
The goal for 2009, he said, is to collect 400 million pounds, again equally split again between aluminum and PET.