This is not the kind of project that comes along every month, or every year, or every 10 years, one economic development official said.
But Portage, Ind., has landed what developers are calling the largest plastic recycling facility in the world.
Not in Indiana, or the United States, but the world.
International Recycling Group will create the facility in a 575,000-square-foot building in a business park in Portage. And plans are to occupy the entire space, said Jim Fitzer, executive director of the Portage Economic Development Corp.
IRG, based in Spartanburg, S.C., expects to spend about $70 million and hire 220 workers to get the recycling operation up and running, the economic developer said.
“What they basically are going to do is they are bringing in their front door recyclable plastics that obviously would otherwise be landfilled,” Fitzer said. “They are going to run it through their process and they are going to have two final products out of that.”
Used plastics that can be recycled into new plastic will be one stream.
And non-recyclable plastics will head off to serve as blast furnace fuel for the nearby ArcelorMittal steel mill in Burns Harbor, Ind., the economic developer said. Investment at the mill will total another $30 million.
And, if all goes well, there are plans to invest millions more down the road in a future phase.
“It's really going to be a big operation,” he said.
“I'm excited to get them in there and get them rolling. It's really great stuff,” Fitzer said. “Kind of world-renowned technology they are going after. It's an interesting company.”
Space to be occupied by IRG, up until recently, was used by BP as a staging area for a major construction project at its nearby refinery in Whiting, Ind. The building has been empty for about six months, the economic developer said.
IRG is receiving capital investment tax incentives from the city that will phase out over five years. This local tax move also makes the company eligible for state-level tax incentives, he said.
“Of course, they were welcomed with open arms. It's nice to see something like that come into your community. It's such a positive thing. The capital investment, the number of employees and then the positive environmental impact. It's just second to none. You couldn't get anything better in a building of that magnitude,” Fitzer said.
A building that big easily could have become warehouse instead of manufacturing space, a use that provides much less economic impact for the community, he said.
Doug Schrader, vice chairman of IRG, has been a point man for the company in working with Portage to get the project off the ground. He could not be reached for comment, but IRG's website explains the company's views on scrap plastic, recycling and the connection to steel.
“Our primary raw material is plastic scrap with little economic resale value which would otherwise end up either landfilled or exported at heavily discounted value relative to the material's embedded energy content,” the company said.
“After sorting and processing at ultra-high speed, using the latest technology, a portion of the formerly uneconomical plastic scrap is sold as high-grade regrind; the remainder is blended to a tightly controlled specification of fuel for our steel industry customers,” the company said.
Schrader told the local newspaper, The Times, that a second future phase could provide another 220 or more jobs through another $70 million investment.
“Assuming all goes well and they get gobs and gobs of raw material on the inflow side, they are hopeful they are going to have a second phase. So that will be better yet,” Fitzer said.