A new $35 million bottle-to-bottle PET recycling plant in Toluca, Mexico, will produce more than 48 million pounds of food-grade resin annually, largely for use by global soft drink and water bottlers operating in Mexico.
The official opening of the PetStar SA de CV plant April 22 also set in motion a social responsibility effort by PetStar to reduce the number of school-age children who collect PET from landfills and getting them into classrooms.
Jamie Camara, PetStar director general, said in a telephone interview April 17 that the wash line began operating in January and the extrusion line in March.
The wash line is now at 80 percent capacity, said Camara. We expect both lines to be at full capacity sometime in June.
The plant, located on 51/2 acres, has 150,000 square feet of manufacturing space, which would allow PetStar to double its current capacity.
PetStar will spend another $15 million to add a second wash line and more extrusion equipment to increase capacity to 88 million pounds annually in less than two years, according to Camara.
Our target is to be ready in January 2011, he said.
PetStar is part of Houston-based recycling services company Avangard Innovative Ltd.
Promotora Ambiental SAB de CV, a Mexican environmental services company with operations in 42 Mexican cities, also is a partner in the project.
PetStar's wholly owned subsidiary, Avangard Mexico SA de CV, will supply the plant with raw material. Avangard Mexico has been collecting PET bottles in that country since 1995, selling about 15 percent of that volume to Mexico and the rest to the U.S., India and China.
We are integrating and [are] going to use more than 90 percent of the volume we process ourselves to add value and produce a solid-state recycling PET resin that we will largely sell domestically, Camara said. Our aim is to do closed-loop recycling in Mexico, turning PET bottles back into food-grade resin that we can sell back to soft drink and water bottlers to make new bottles.
Bottlers have said they plan to make bottles with 10-25 percent recycled content, using the plant's recycled resin, according to Camara.
He said the plant, which took 14 months to build and open, will reprocess about 64 million pounds of recycled PET annually roughly the equivalent of 1 billion bottles to produce 48 million pounds of solid-state PET resin.
The plant will not reprocess colored PET.
The facility will use an Amut wash line and Buhler extrusion equipment, and will operate 24/7 on a rotating, four-shift system with a 70-person workforce that includes administrative staff.
By contrast, the collection process in Mexico is labor-intensive, Camara said, with some 700 employees drivers, and workers who sort material on conveyor belts at 14 collection plants.
Camara said PetStar solid-state recycled resin will be the same shape and size of virgin resin and will have the same viscosity so it blends as smoothly as possible.
That was the biggest technical challenge we faced. But we have achieved that successfully, he said.
Clearly, though, the largest operating challenges continue to be market conditions and how the price of virgin PET fluctuates, Camara said.
If virgin PET is 55-65 cents per pound [as it is now], we are OK. If it is under 55 cents per pound, we suffer. That is the big unknown in this business, he said.
Long term, Camara said the company's greatest challenge will be working with others to restructure the collection system.
In Mexico, Camara explained, it is common for families to bring their children to landfills to help them pick out PET bottles and other materials of value because the families need additional income.
We are undertaking a social responsibility program to improve the conditions of the hand pickers and to lower or eradicate child labor at landfills by providing them education, Camara said.
We are going to work with parents and educators and children to get these children into schools, said Camara. If a child is going to school, we will support that by reimbursing the families for that missing income.
Camara said the first pilot program will start in May in Chimalhuacan, just outside Mexico City, and provide education for 40-50 children ages 4-12. A second one, in Tijuana, will get 80 more children into schools and is expected to start in September.
The project is being underwritten by International Finance Corp., a unit of World Bank.
We also need to improve the labor conditions of hand pickers by moving from a hand-picking system to a sorting infrastructure that incorporates the hand pickers not eradicates them, Camara said.
We need to develop an infrastructure of [materials recovery facilities] to make collection more efficient and, at the same time, incorporate the hand pickers into the industry, he said.
Short term, we have enough material, Camara said. But with the increasing commitments by companies to sustainability and recycled content, long-term, the market will be larger than our ability to collect material.