Clear Path Recycling LLC has begun recycling PET bottles into clear flake at its first-ever recycling plant. The Fayetteville, N.C., facility will be the largest PET recycling plant in North America when it is fully operational.
We started consuming bottles and making flake in mid-July, said Ron Salati, vice president of administration and commercial affairs for Clear Path, a joint venture of carpet manufacturer Shaw Industries Group Inc. and PET and polyester staple-fiber producer DAK Americas LLC.
Roughly 75 percent of the plant's output will be used internally by Shaw for carpet production with the rest of the resin sold on the open market, Salati said. Charlotte, N.C.-based DAK supplies Shaw of Dalton, Ga., with recycled PET resins for its ClearTouch filament-fiber carpet.
The Clear Path plant will fill a void in the recycled PET resin market that has existed since Wellman Inc. pulled the plug on its 200 million-pound PET plant in Johnsonville, S.C., four years ago.
The small line, now operating one shift six days a week at the Fayetteville plant, will produce 30 million pounds of resin annually when operations move to 24/7 in mid- to late August, said Salati in a phone interview Aug. 2. That represents roughly 20 percent of the 160 million-pound resin production capacity planned initially for the plant.
Salati said the line now operating will shift from producing clear PET to green PET when the larger line which will make only clear PET flake begins operating. That should be early in the fourth quarter, he said. Both lines will use a Sorema wash-line system.
We are pretty much in line with our expectations, Salati said. Clear Path had originally projected that it would begin operations in early to mid-April, but delays in the permit process, rehabbing the production facilities and getting the needed infrastructure in place pushed back the start slightly, he said.
The plant currently employs 57 and will add 25 workers when the larger line goes into operation.
Plans call for a second, 120 million-pound line that will push resin production capacity to 280 million pounds annually. Salati said the company will decide when to go ahead with that expansion after we get the first phase of the plant fully operational.
I expect we will make that decision in the first quarter of next year, he said.
Construction and installation of the second line will take nine to 12 months, he said. Initially, that line was anticipated to begin production in fall 2011.
When a second line is added at Clear Path, Salati said, the plant's annual use of recycled PET bottles will be equal to or slightly more than 60 percent of the PET bottles that stay in the U.S. today after they are collected, as it typically takes 100 pounds of material to make 75 pounds of resin.
More than half of the 1.45 billion pounds of PET bottles collected in 2007 went to export markets, leaving only 615 million pounds for U.S. reclaimers. Our output [from phase one] will be more than 10 percent of the amount of pounds of PET bottles that are collected annually in the U.S, and nearly 20 percent when the second line is added, Salati said.
Clear Path is using both bale and deposit bottles to produce flake.
We haven't had any issues buying bottles, Salati said. We started buying bottles back in December and we have been able to build a good supply, as we have a significant area for inventory. The company currently has 20 million pounds of PET bottles in inventory.
He said the company, which is using baled bottles from municipalities, Canadian bottles and West Coast deposit bottles, expects overall yields of 70-75 percent.
We don't have much flexibility [in where we get our bottles]. Given our size of operation, we need to buy from everywhere, Salati said.
Clear Path will resell the non-PET materials that are separated out of the PET bales.
We will take the byproducts and cap materials, Salati said. That is a good material we can sell.
Salati said 80 percent of the Fayetteville plant's production will be clear flake and the other 20 percent green flake.
In addition to the startup of a new line, this is literally the birth of a new company, Salati said. We are learning about the variability of curbside bottles. We are still working on the chemical formulations to make sure the flake is as clear as possible.
Salati said maintenance workers were hired earlier in the year and helped install the equipment, and supervisors were put in place in May. Recycling-line operators started in June.
We have had to invest a lot of time and money in training people on the equipment and training them in our core values of safety and environmental responsibility, Salati said, adding that equipment vendors helped train the production workers. Clear Path also is partnering with Fayetteville Community College on training.
Salati said the PET recycling market has performed pretty much to our expectations since the plant's construction was originally announced in April 2009. The spread between bottles and flakes has been pretty consistent.
Before the larger line starts up sometime in the fourth quarter, Clear Path has several things it must do.
We have to prove the quality of the product meets our expectations and we have to prove that we can manage the volume of incoming material logistically, Salati said.
We have to be able to manage the higher flow of materials.
That will be even more critical when the company embarks on phase two of the plant and reaches 280 million pounds of resin production capacity.
When the second line opens in the fourth quarter, we will have to open a bale [of bottles] every four minutes. But when phase two opens up, we will have to open a bale every 21/2 minutes, Salati said.