KW Plastics Recycling is adding a $5 million to $6 million wash line with the capacity to process 150 million pounds annually of bulky rigid plastics made from injection-grade high density polyethylene.
The line, scheduled to come on stream in late August or early September, may be the first significant industry commitment to recycling bulky rigid plastics, such as carts, crates, buckets, baskets, toys and lawn furniture.
“I don't know of anyone else who has made a commitment of this type” to bulky rigid HDPE recycling, said Scott Saunders, general manager of KW Plastics Recycling in Troy, Ala., in a June 24 phone interview. “It could be substantial growth for us. We could probably grow by 30 percent in pounds and sales. This is the first opportunity our industry has had to grow in pounds since the mid-1990s.”
KW's plan to build the wash line comes just three months after the Association of Postconsumer Plastic Recyclers, which represents more than 90 percent of the post-consumer reprocessing capacity in North America, published its first bale specifications for bulky rigid plastics.
The new wash line will be the fourth inside KW Plastics Recycling's 100,000-square-foot plant in Troy. It will bring wash capacity at that plant to 500 million pounds — 400 million pounds of HDPE and 100 million pounds of polypropylene.
Parent company KW Plastics, also based in Troy, also recycles about 100 million pounds of industrial PP from automotive batteries at plants in Bakersfield, Calif., and Troy.
“Customers are ready for the resin” made from bulky plastics, Saunders said. “There is a lot of pressure on manufacturers of injection molded containers and parts to use post-consumer resin content, and the [material resource facilities] seem ready to make bales that can be sold in the U.S.
“Things never came together all at the same time before to recycle bulky rigids,” Saunders said. “But they have now.”
The market began to materialize during the past 18 months, largely because of an APR initiative to identify end markets and potential types of baled plastics that could be made from non-container HDPE and non-bottle PET, he said.
“APR has done a tremendous amount of work connecting various stakeholders and bringing attention to the fact that the vast amount of this material was going to landfills or to China,” said Saunders, who also serves as chairman of Washington-based APR. “We're really pleased with the way APR brought the material, the markets and the whole supply-chain together.”
Saunders said that 70 percent of the equipment for the line has already been delivered, and the company was already buying bales of bulky rigid plastics, largely from its current supply base.
“We should begin installation in the next 30-45 days,” he said. “It will probably take us four to five months to get the line capable of running at full capacity.
“We anticipate that the new wash line will process 45 million to 60 million pounds” in its first full year, in 2012, said Saunders.
The Washington-based American Chemistry Council estimated in its annual non-bottle rigid plastics recycling report that 91 million pounds of the post-consumer non-bottle rigid plastics recycled in 2009 were bulky rigid plastics.
Saunders believes KW's experience reprocessing PP — which also comes in various sizes and shapes — will be the leverage the company needs to produce quality recycled HDPE from bulky plastics.
““We have a lot of experience in processing injection molded polypropylene,” Saunders said. “We know how to take material from various end sources and produce high-quality resin.”
He said the new wash line for rigid HDPE will be similar to its other HDPE wash lines, but with some modifications.
“We had to design it to process these larger containers, and for containers of different sizes,” Saunders said. “We will need different horsepower on the equipment, different types of handling equipment at the beginning of the line, and stronger gearboxes, and gearboxes in different positions.”