Midwest Exchange Enterprises Inc., which has largely been an industrial plastics recycler, is expanding into food-grade, post-consumer PET.
The expansion, which is expected to be completed by March, will increase Midwest's recycling operations from 80,000 square feet to 120,000 square feet, and give it the ability to produce almost 7,000 pounds of recycled, food-grade PET per hour, or about 50 million pounds annually.
Midwest said it has not decided yet on the exact site for its new PET recycling plant. But a spokesperson for the company said it most likely will be in a 40,000-square-foot building next to the company's current recycling plant in Gurnee, Ill., 40 miles north of Chicago.
The company also is considering a site in Pleasant Prairie, Wis., roughly 15 miles north of Gurnee.
Midwest currently has a PET wash-and-dry operation and grinds PET, low and high density polyethylene and polypropylene in Gurnee, where the company is headquartered. About 90 percent of the 43 million pounds of plastic it reprocessed in 2011 was post-industrial, and its sales were around $24 million.
President and CEO Alex Casillas founded the company in 1994. His goal is to keep U.S. post-consumer plastics in the country for reprocessing, rather than see it exported offshore to countries such as China.
“We will keep the work and our resources in the United States, employing more of our community and encouraging local job creation,” Casillas said.
Midwest's plant will use equipment from Italian manufacturer Amut SpA, whose North American operation is based in Woodbridge, Ontario.
Casillas visited PetStar SA de CV's food-grade PET recycling facility in Toluca, Mexico, before selecting Amut as a supplier.
“The equipment cleans the materials extremely well,” Casillas said. The technology will help Midwest minimize its use of energy, water and chemicals, he said.
“Amut's technology and innovation provide for a cost-efficient recycling plant,” Casillas said.
Casillas said the drivers behind the expansion were to reduce the carbon footprint of packaging materials and help firms in North America close the recycling loop by enabling them to use more recycled PET in their packaging.
“What excites me most is the opportunity to create a totally closed-loop recycling solution,” said Anthony Georges, president of Amut North America. “We can reduce our demand on virgin plastics through recycling, and thereby reuse the plastic again to make another new product which will close loop in the recycling process.”
Casillas believes the market for recycled PET in North America is growing.
“When you evaluate what is happening here in North America, you see the demand for rPET increasing especially in the thermoforming market. Grocery stores and large chain stores are demanding RPET to be used in more consumer packaging more and more every day.”
The Canadian Grocers Initiative, adopted last year, mandated that most thermoformed food packaging be made from PET, which will boost North American supplies of post-consumer PET.