After planning expansions that did not materialize in the last three years, executives of Mountain Valley Recycling LLC and sister firm NextLife Solutions think that situation is about to change.
They believe their companies have an opportunity to become leaders in closed-loop recycling.
Our plant will be running at full capacity before the year is over, said Mountain Valley President and Chief Operating Officer Ron Whaley.
The 135,000-square-foot plant in Morristown, Tenn., is getting a second recycling line, to boost capacity there to 80 million pounds of recycled resin annually, said Whaley, a longtime Solo Cup Co. executive who joined Mountain Valley in March. Each reprocessing line requires roughly 50 million pounds of material to produce 40 million pounds of recycled resin.
Boca Raton, Fla.-based Mountain Valley has plans for more expansion during the next two years, according to Whaley. I expect that we will have five facilities in North America by the end of 2010, he said. A site for a second plant could be chosen in the next two months and operational by year's end, he added. We are looking at equipment right now. We are looking at existing buildings, he said. We want more, but smaller facilities.
Those other facilities would each need about 75,000 square feet for recycling and 50,000 square feet of warehouse space for producing 40 million pounds of resin annually, he noted.
This is not the first time Mountain Valley has boldly predicted expansion. The recycler planned to expand into Canada but backed away from that in 2007. Also, it never followed through on plans to expand to the Southwest in 2008 and embark on a plastic hanger recycling project in Europe.
But Whaley said changing market dynamics and more partnerships with retailers and producers are creating greater demand that will make the expansions a reality.
Oftentimes, when the economy has taken a downturn in the past, environmental initiatives have taken a hit, but this time it hasn't happened, he said. The interest in sustainability is growing among consumers and retailers.
At Morristown, about 50 miles north of Knoxville, Mountain Valley recycles plastic hangers, stretch wrap and film mostly from nationwide retailers like Wal-Mart Stores Inc. It turns those products into recycled polypropylene, polystyrene and high and low density polyethylene resins.
Roughly two-thirds of the material the firm collects is stretch wrap, and the remainder plastic hangers. In addition to Wal-Mart, Mountain Valley began recycling plastic film, bags and hangers earlier this year from some Macy's Inc. department stores in Texas. The firm is in early discussions for similar arrangements, sources said, with Target, JCPenney and Kohl's.
If the retailer supplies both the supply and demand, the programs become long term and sustainable, Whaley said.
Sister company NextLife works with manufacturing partners to create products such as nestable block pallets for non-perishables, and grocery shopping carts and trash cans that retailers can brag are made from their own shopping bags or plastic hangers that have been recycled.
We are very focused on partnering with large retail establishments and closing the loop for them, Whaley said. We want to take their plastic waste and re-engineer it for them into sustainable products, from pillows to garbage cans.
Instead of doing its own manufacturing, NextLife develops products with partners and licenses its name for others to use on those green products.
Two years from now, we want NextLife to be known as the standard for green products made from recycled material, said Sean Kerrigan, NextLife's senior vice president of marketing and corporate development.
Kerrigan said the group of products developed by NextLife and its processor partners is expanding.
Neat Freak Group Inc. in Mississauga, Ontario, signed a licensing deal earlier this year to use the NextLife name on its home storage and organizational products made from recycled resins. Vanguard Plastics Ltd. in Surrey, British Columbia, has added a line of NextLife grocery- and retail-store shopping baskets that contain 25 percent recycled content from plastic shopping bags.
Cascade Engineering Inc. in Grand Rapids, Mich., makes lawn edging and fencing from Mountain Valley's resins as a contract manufacturer for Wal-Mart. In addition, Wal-Mart recently introduced splash blocks made by Cascade from recycled resins.
Hollander Home Fashions Corp. in Boca Raton, Fla., uses the firm's resin made from recycled PET beverage bottles for its year-old NextLife-brand pillow line.
Kerrigan also said a pilot project at 300 retail stores is testing consumer interest in a cistern, or rain barrel, that Cascade makes from recycled resin. A flower pot, also made of recycled resin, sits atop the cistern to camouflage its function.
We are looking to find other companies that want to make environmentally friendly products from our resins, said Kerrigan.
We have the base components to be a full-service sustainability partner and to help other companies become green. We are taking waste out of landfills and turning that waste into resins that can be used to make new products, he said.
To increase its ability to develop products, NextLife signed a partnership agreement three months ago with Ciba Expert Services of Basil, Switzerland. Ciba is part of BASF SE.
Their team of 450 scientists and chemicals will help us create better recycled resins, conduct life-cycle assessments and make our resins more useful in manufacturing, Kerrigan said. To have them in our corner differentiates us in the marketplace.
How quickly Mountain Valley grows depends on the collection infrastructure, according to COO Whaley. The main obstacle is collection, he said.
We have to define a collection model that is feasible from a sustainability point of view and from an economic point of view. That has been the big hurdle in the past.