Custom Polymers PET LLC is tripling its recycled PET bottle-washing capacity at Athens, Ala., with an expansion that it hopes to complete by January.
Company executive John Calhoun II said the new plant will have the capacity to recycle and wash 100 million pounds of PET bottles and produce 70 million pounds of recycled PET flake annually. Calhoun is a partner and co-founder of Custom Polymers Inc. of Charlotte, N.C., the parent company of Custom Polymers PET.
Just 17 months ago, Custom Polymers PET began making recycled food-grade PET pellets in Athens. That plant began operating at maximum capacity in the third quarter of last year and is able to wash 50 million pounds of PET and produce 30 million pounds of recycled food-grade pellets a year for the commercial market.
Calhoun said construction began last month on the new 50,000-square-foot building at its 19-acre site in Athens.
The expansion will bring the total wash capacity in Athens to 150 million pounds, and means Custom Polymers PET will have 70 million pounds of recycled PET flake and 30 million pounds of recycled food-grade PET pellets to sell into the commercial market.
The demand for recycled PET is increasing not just for consumer packaging, but for a whole variety of consumer and [original equipment manufacturer] products, said Calhoun. There is growing demand for recycled content in a much wider array of end products.
The new plant will be the fourth building at the site in Athens, which currently has a 70,000-square-foot warehouse, an 80,000-square-foot facility with two wash and sort lines, and a 50,000-square-foot plant using Vacurema PET extrusion technology from Erema North America Inc. in Ipswich, Mass., to produce the recycled food-grade PET pellets.
Custom Polymers partner Phil Howerton who co-founded the company with Calhoun in 1996 said the wash line at the new plant in Athens will use the newest and latest technology in bottle washing.
With the expansion and the technology at the new plant, Calhoun said Custom Polymers PET will be positioned to be one of the low-cost producers of recycled PET which he calls a necessity. Eventually, for recycled resin to be sustainable, it has got to be on parity with virgin material, he said.
The other major challenge for recycled PET flake and pellet producers remains supply, he said.
A lot of capacity is coming on line to process and recycle PET bottles, and there is a shortage of raw material coming into the market, said Calhoun, as 50 percent of baled PET bottles are exported and sold to China.
If demand continues to come on line, it will be difficult to compete for baled bottles because everyone will be chasing the same supply, he said.
The concern over supply shortages also creates uncertainties for future PET expansions down the road, and whether those expansions will be to produce flake or recycled food-grade pellets.
We would love to grow the PET business even more, said Calhoun. Custom Polymers PET is one of the few companies selling recycled pellets and flake into the commercial market, rather than producing it for internal use, he added.
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