Construction is beginning this month to expand Unifi Manufacturing Inc.'s plastics recycling facility in Yadkinville, N.C., a project that will initially add millions of pounds of annual capacity and provide even more room for potential future growth.
Unifi, through its Repreve brand, is known for turning used PET bottles into new polyester fiber. The new construction in Yadkinville will be able to handle post-industrial plastics as well, according to Mark McNeill, vice president of technology and business development for Unifi.
Unifi's 85,000-square-foot addition is expected to be home to a new Starlinger recycling line that will be able to handle another 25 million pounds of recycled plastics each year.
And there will be enough room in the newly constructed space to potentially add two additional machines in the same range, McNeill said during a recent open house for American Starlinger-Sahm Inc., the U.S. arm of Austrian machinery maker Starlinger & Co. GmbH that's located in Fountain Inn, S.C.
“We definitely, these days, equate Repreve with Starlinger. So from a Unifi perspective, in the U.S., not one pound of Repreve is made on a non-Starlinger piece of equipment. And that's worked out well for us,” McNeill said.
Existing Unifi recycling operations in Yadkinville currently provide about 70 million pounds of material on three Starlinger lines, and the addition of a fourth line will boost that to about 95 million pounds of capacity. The new building at the Repreve Recycling Center is expected to be completed in the spring and the new recycling equipment should be running around September, McNeill said.
Unifi's first two Starlinger machines began operating in 2011 in Yadkinville and a third started running early last year.
Expansion of Unifi's Repreve brand continues as more and more companies embrace the use of recycled-based fibers.
“People care about or see the value in recycling,” he said. “These brands believe it's a differentiator, it's the right thing to do. Ultimately, I don't think they do anything if they don't believe it's going to drive more people to buy their product.”
Repreve counts some well-known names as customers for its yarns, including Patagonia, Quicksilver, Nike, Ford and North Face.
The need for additional recycling capacity comes as Unifi sees its Repreve brand grow.
“We continue to get new transition programs from virgin to recycling. We believe that by June, July of next year we will be at a point where we will be maxed out on our production at that (existing recycling) facility,” McNeill said.
Most of the recycled fiber made is consumed internally by Unifi, but as the company expands operations it also is looking to push the Repreve brand into new potential markets such as carpet fiber.