WASHINGTON (May 22, 11:50 a.m. ET) — Plastics recyclers may be strapped for supply, but that hasn't been a deterred them from opening new plants and investing in new wash lines, grinders and extruders to expand their capacity.
For example, one of two new wash lines being added by KW Plastics Recycling in Troy, Ala., began operating earlier this year, and a second wash line — the first major investment by a recycler to process bulky rigid plastics made from injection-high density polyethylene — is scheduled to be completed by early July.
Those two new wash lines will give KW a total of five wash lines that will have the capacity to wash 450 million pounds of HDPE, and 300 million pounds of polypropylene annually.
“Our new wash line for flexible polypropylene [woven and non-woven film] is up and running and we are making adjustments to the process,” said Scott Saunders, general manager of KW Plastics Recycling. “We expect to be running that line at an annual rate of 50 [million] to75 million pounds of material per year” by late July.
“That line will give us the ability to ship a color-able recycled PP resin in large volumes for the first time,” he said.
The company's $5 million wash line for bulky rigid HDPE plastic is expected to be completed by early July, Saunders said.
That line, which will have the capacity to process 10-12 million pounds of bulky rigid plastics monthly, will recycle items such as carts, crates, buckets, baskets, toys and lawn furniture. “There is more material available in that stream” than in HDPE milk containers and laundry containers, which today constitutes the main source of materials in the U.S. for HDPE recycling, he said.
“It's like the early 1990s when we started recycling milk bottles and mixed color detergent bottles were an afterthought,” said Saunders. “Today, we process more mixed-color bottles. I think we are going to follow in the same way with bulky rigids. It will take a couple of years, but I think it's going to be exponential growth. There are more of those containers manufactured [in pounds] than HDPE detergent bottles.”
Saunders also said that KW will be adding two new extrusion lines in the next 12 months, at a cost in excess of $1 million, to process the material it will be washing on its two new lines — an 8-inch extruder with the capacity to process 5,000 pounds of material/hour and a 160mm twin extruder that will have a capacity of 7,000 pounds/hour.
Another larger HDPE recycler, Envision Plastics Industries LLC of Reidsville, N.C., has finished debugging its $3.5 million wash line — the third at its plant in Reidsville, N.C. —- increasing the wash line capacity at that plant to 90 million pounds. “That wash line will have 30 percent more throughput and make cleaner flake,” said Vice President Tamsin Ettefagh, and will have an output will be 7,500 pounds per hour, compared to 6,000 pounds/hour and 4,000 pounds/hour of the plant's two existing lines, according to Ettefagh.
“It is a lot more efficient and uses about 30 percent less energy and less water as the material goes through a series of wash tanks,” she said. “It recycles water within the system, so we get multiple washes from the same water.”
“A lot of our customers have increased the amount of material they order from us” now that the new line is debugged, said Ettefagh. “We haven't had to get new customers to fill the additional capacity.”
“We had a record February, a record March and a record April,” she said.
As a result, Ettefagh expects Envision to process 140 million pounds of plastic in 2012 — a big jump from the 114 million pounds of material it processed in 2011. And she expects to do that even though May demand is down because virgin HDPE prices are dropping and orders are being cancelled by customers who have inventory on stock to fill their needs.
Envision also is on target, she said, to add, by the end of the year, a line to produce 20 million pounds of food-grade EcoPrime resins at its 40,000-square-foot plant in Chino, Calif. to complement the 24-million pound EcoPrime capacity at its plant in Reidsville.
But those expansions by KW and Envision are the only ones by plastics recyclers.
* Recycler NextLife Enterprises LLC added a third processing line at its plant in Frankfort, Ky., earlier this year, increasing the capacity at that plant to 45 million pounds/year.
“We're ordered two more identical lines that we will be installing soon,” said president and CEO Ron Whaley. “That will probably put that plant at full capacity. We definitely need another location. We have been looking primarily in the Midwest. One facility isn't enough for us.”
* Mason, Mich.-based Dart Container Corp. is testing various grinders so it can process the polystryene food-service trays it recycles at its in Corona, Calif., plant more efficiently, said Michael Westerfield, corporate director for recycling operations, whose office is in Redlands, Calif. “We will be adding grinders sometime within the next three months.”
“We have already increased the throughput and the volume of the materials” that are recycled at that plant by improving “how the materials are dried to get the moisture out earlier so the materials don't get too hot,” said Westerfield. “Our throughput is better than we anticipated and the new grinders will make us more efficient” because they will allow more materials to be fed at a single time.
“We are processing more than a million school trays a month and more than a quarter million pounds on an annual basis” on the Corona wash line, which operates eight hours/five days a week and sometimes a half-day on Saturdays, said Westerfield. “If things continue to go as they are now, we're going to double the volume of material we recycle.”
* Industrial recycler Maine Plastics Inc. moved into a new 140,000-square-foot facility in Kalamazoo, Mich, in January and shuttered its older similarly-sized site in nearby Schoolcraft, Mich., which was an amalgam of several buildings that had been added over the years.
“It's about the same size, but the flow of materials is much more efficient,” said Robert Render, vice president and past president of the Zion, Illinois, recycler which now has nine recycling plants nationwide. “We had been in the Schoolcraft facility for 11 years and it clearly was not meeting our needs. We had been looking to move it for a couple of years. The flow and the layout in Kalamazoo is much better. It is a single rectangular building versus a series of buildings built over time.”
* Another industrial recycler, Zanesville, Ohio-based Coll Materials Exchange LLC — which added a second extrusion line earlier this year at the plant in Waco, Tex., it opened in November — has told Plastics News that it is investigating opening up a third plant by the end of the year in the Pacific Northwest.
* Also, in the Pacific Northwest, the $10 million, 45,000-square-foot ORPET PET recycling plant in Mt. Helens, Ore., opened in late December and held its grand opening three weeks ago. It is the only post-consumer PET recycling plant in the Pacific Northwest.
“We started production near the end of December,” said Bruce Sone, director of purchasing and sales for ORPET. B+B Anlagenbau GmbH did a turnkey operation for us,” bringing in suppliers of sorters, grinders and optical sorting equipment.
“Right now, we're operating 24 hours/day and four days/week. We are making clear and green washed flake, and clear and green washed fines, and mixed clean flake” for customers who make automotive strapping, nursery pots and sheet film for thermoformed containers, he said.
Sone said he expects the plant to process 14 million pounds of PET this year and 30 million when it is fully operational. Currently, it is only using deposit material from the state's deposit program.
“If we want to go full capacity, we will have to get material from municipalities and have a 60/40 mix of deposit to municipal material, Sone said. “We think that the 30 million pound capacity is something we can sustain.”
“We also want to get into the making of pellets, but that is at least a year away,” he said.
ORPET is the name of the operating company of Pacific PET Recycling LLC, which is the holding company formed by the joint venture partners: The Oregon Beverage Recycling Cooperative, Dennis Denton, chairman of Portland-based Denton Plastics Inc.; Tom Leaptrott, owner of Quantum Leap LLC, a Vancouver, Wash., supplier of packaging materials and plastic bags used in the recycling industry, and former paper industry executive Rick Wollenberg. Quantum Leap and Denton Plastics are not parties to the joint venture.
THE ORPET plant isn't the only new PET plant coming on the marketplace, or recently opened.
* Perpetual Recycling Solutions is scheduled to open its first plastics recycling facility — a 110 million-pound food-grade recycled PET plant in Richmond, Ind. — by the end of the year.
The first line of that $30 million, 100,000-square-foot plant will have the capacity to produce 75 million pounds of food-grade flake annually from a raw material input of 107 million pounds, which is roughly equivalent to 823 million plastic bottles.
Separately, Coca-Cola has filed a breach of contract lawsuit against Pure Tech Plastics LLC, saying the company has not paid more than $5 million loaned to them by two units of Coca-Cola. The lawsuit listed as the defendant David Bender, as a registered agent for Pure Tech. Bender is president and CEO of both Perpetual Recycling and the Chicago-based holding company, Re: Think Recycling Group LLC, which acquired Pure Tech shortly after the revolving line of credit was established.
* There is also the $58 million bottle-to-bottle PET 220,000-square-foot recycling plant opened by CarbonLITE Industries LLC in January that will initially produce 75 million pounds of food-grade PET on an annual basis.
PepsiCo has agreed to purchase 40 percent of the plant's output to use as recycled content, and Nestlé Waters North America has agreed to purchase one-third of the plant's output and incorporate 50 percent recycled content into its currently all virgin-resin Arrowhead brand of bottle spring water that is mostly packaged at the Nestlé plant 40 miles away in Cabazon, Calif.
* Nestlé has also said that it hopes to have a PET recycling plant, on the order of the CarbonLITE plant in Riverside, up and running on the East Coast in the next 12 months to provide recycled content for use at some of its five bottling plants in Maine and Pennsylvania.
There are also several smaller PET recycling plants being built in California.
In addition, US Fibers earlier this month announced a $5.5 million expansion of its polyester recycling operation in Trenton, S.C. That expansion is expected to be completed by year-end.
US Fibers, which is headquartered in Laurens, S.C., and also has a recycling plant at that location, is a division of the holding company, Pac Tell Group Inc. Its plants recycle roughly 250 million pounds of polyester annually into staple PET fibers for the automotive, filtration, construction, non-woven and home furnishings industries.
Also, industrial plastic recycler SirNaik LLC — based in Columbia, Md. — is investing $10 million to create a Green Research Center in Parkersburg, WVa., with the aim of developing the best processes to recycle post-consumer plastics in a closed-loop system.
That 200,000-square-foot research center, which will be fully operational this fall, already has projects under way that are looking at how best to recycle thermoformed packaging material, electronics equipment and medical waste.
It also is expanding its extrusion and compounding plant in Ravenswood, WVa. —- which operates under the name, Total Recycling Solutions LLC — by 100,000 square feet. That plant currently has 100,000 square feet of manufacturing space and another 100,000 square feet of warehouse space.