Stepping into a void that has existed since Wellman Inc. pulled the plug on its 200 million-pound PET recycling plant in Johnsonville, S.C., three years ago, Clear Path Recycling LLC plans to build what will be the largest PET recycling plant in North America.
Clear Path, along with the planned 280 million-pound-capacity plant in Fayetteville, N.C., is a joint venture of PET and polyester staple-fiber producer DAK Americas LLC and carpet manufacturer Shaw Industries Group Inc. Construction of the plant will begin this summer at DAK's existing Fayetteville site.
Cost was not disclosed for the project, which was announced April 30.
We are building the plant because it is hard to find good, consistent sourcing [for recycled PET resin] in the open market, said Tom Sherlock, resins business director for DAK Americas, in a recent phone interview. With this new venture, we will have control over the quality and consistency of the recycled PET flake.
This is an ideal time to launch this plant, he said, because customers are having a difficult time finding supplies. The timing also coincides with a state landfill ban on PET bottles that goes into effect Oct. 1.
The first 140 million-pound line is expected to start by March 31, 2010. When the second line launches, in fall 2011, the plant's annual use of recycled PET bottles will be equal to about 58 percent of the PET bottles that are collected and stay in the U.S., Sherlock said.
More than half of the 1.4 billion pounds of PET bottles collected in 2007 went to export markets, leaving only 641 million pounds for U.S. reclaimers. The plant is expected to use about 372 million pounds of PET bottles, as it typically takes 100 pounds of material to make 75 pounds of resin.
This is a pretty significant component of the total bottles collected in the U.S., he said. Our output of pounds alone will be equal to 20 percent of the amount of pounds of PET bottles that are collected annually in the U.S.
When the first line starts operating, the plant will employ 82 and Clear Path will need to hire roughly 24 more workers for the second line, he said.
Clear Path plans to use both bale and deposit material across the U.S., said Sherlock. But its first choice, provided the quality meets its specifications, will be material located close to interstate highways on the East Coast.
Freight plays a significant role in the cost of the process, he said. But we have to balance the need for quality with the freight costs needed to get that quality. We will use a number of waste streams to get the PET we need.
Sherlock also said that as Clear Path gains experience sourcing bales, I expect that we will become an integral part of sourcing those PET bottles to keep them here domestically.
Like other PET expansions and announced expansions this year, the majority of the material will be used internally. Charlotte, N.C.-based DAK supplies Shaw of Dalton, Ga., with recycled PET resins for its ClearTouch filament-fiber carpet, introduced in 2005.
Sherlock expects 25 percent of the plant's output to be sold on the open market.
This is market-driven. There is a greater social consciousness on the part of consumers, and American people have a strong preference for material that is friendly to the environment, he said.
We needed to step up our sustainability efforts and lower our carbon footprint, Sherlock said. So we decided to become an active part of the recycling community and take an active role in becoming sustainable.
The firms said annual energy savings from using recycled PET resin rather than virgin, according to Energy Information Administration data, is 2.5 trillion Btu of energy and that the energy saved is enough to power 18,000 homes a year.