Steve Carreras — chief buyer of recycled plastics for the Coca-Cola NURRC recycling plant in Spartanburg, S.C., the past three years — is now running the troubled plant, according to sources that asked not to be identified.
At the same time, several sources told Plastics News that Coca-Cola Co. is still trying to sell the plant, which reopened on a limited basis in August.
Whether the status of the joint venture arrangement has changed, however, is unclear.
One source close to the situation said Coca-Cola bought out its joint venture partner, United Resource Recovery Corp. LLC., in early October.
Another source agreed that's the plan, regardless of whether it has happened yet. “I think that is [Coke's] intent — to buy them out completely,” said another person familiar with the situation at the Spartanburg plant. “But I don't know if it's a complete deal yet.”
Atlanta-based Coke declined to confirm whether it has bought out URRC's 51 percent stake or if it has promoted Carreras to plant manager. A spokesperson for Coke said the company has “nothing to add at this point.”
Carreras was formerly business development manager at Waste Management Recycle America LLC.
In addition, Carlos Gutierrez, president and CEO of URRC — who developed the technology used at the NURRC plant and has been responsible for making it work — would say only that the two companies “have been working … on restructuring NURRC, including the joint venture agreement.”
“We continue to have a strong partnership as we work together to make NURRC successful for the long term,” Gutierrez said in an email.
He and his team at NURCC have been working for much of this year to modify the equipment and change processes at the plant so it can more efficiently recycle PET into food-grade resin.
The plant was shuttered for nearly six months because of problems producing food-grade PET.
Sources also told Plastics News that suppliers to the NURCC plant — some of which said they were not paid on a timely basis during the plant's downturns — have now been paid.
“All the bad debt has been paid, but it took over nine months to pay, so that leaves a market storm,” said one source.
As a result, many suppliers are insisting on payments in cash, sources said, and Coke often has to pay 2-3 cents per pound above the market price for recycled PET.
Two plastics recycling executives said Coke is still having problems getting the plant to consistently make food-grade PET without investing a lot more cash in the operation.
“They are still conducting trials,” said one source. “I don't think they can [make food-grade PET] efficiently and make money.”
Regardless, sources said Coke has given Western Container Corp., whose seven plants produce more than 4 billion bottles annually for Coca-Cola, a mandate to use recycled PET from the Spartanburg plant. But the Midland, Texas-based company rejected the initial loads sent from the reopened plant, sources said.
The Spartanburg plant has now undergone at least four engineering redesigns since it opened in January 2009, in an effort to make its process profitable.
The $50 million plant was designed to be the largest bottle-to-bottle PET recycling plant globally. The plant has not reached its nameplate capacity of 56 million pounds, and a second line that would have brought capacity to 100 million pounds has not yet been added.
The NURRC plant uses the URRC hybrid UnPET technology, which chemically cleans PET after it has been turned into flake. The majority of PET recyclers use a process that washes bottles before they are shredded into flake.
Coca-Cola also has PET recycling plants in Mexico, France, Austria, Switzerland and the Philippines, but the plant in the Philippines has never gone into operation.