Orlando, Fla. — With the company's initial PET recycling plant expected to open later this year in California, rPlanet Earth expects to eventually blanket much of the country with such facilities.
Work is continuing on rPlanet Earth's first facility in Vernon, Calif., which will begin with one processing line but ultimately include a second line, co-CEO Robert Daviduk said.
The 302,000-square-foot location will employ about 140 when the first line is operational and about 260 down the road when a second line is installed.
The first phase alone will cost more than $100 million. The company will be able to handle more than 70 million pounds of material annually with the first line and double that when the second line comes online.
"Our company is looking to change the way PET has been recycled to date," Daviduk said. "We are a company focused on material plastic waste anywhere throughout the economy. We're focused on PET, but clearly as a bigger-picture goal, I think all of us would like to see no plastics going to waste on the side of the road, in landfills, wherever else they might end up."
The company will use post-consumer bottles along with some thermoformed containers, all sourced from California, to feed the facility. Recycling and the manufacture of finished products will take place under one roof.
"We are working on bringing packaging solutions for our customers by employing new, innovative technology. We think that's really the key to being successful. We want to create a throughput for the recycling of PET and incorporation into packaging," he said.
Installation of a second line in Vernon during the next couple of years "will make our company the largest food-grade recycler of PET in the U.S. and the second largest in the world behind PetStar," Daviduk said.
PetStar SA de CV operates a food-grade resin recycling facility in Toluca, Mexico.
By including all operations under one roof, the company can avoid making recycled PET pellets and shipping them off to a separate packaging manufacturing location. This simplification will save money in terms of both energy and logistics.
"The complete vertical integration of our plant is going to give us a lot of operating efficiencies," Daviduk said.
"It's really giving us the lightest touch on the environment as possible," he said. "In terms of our process, it's the lowest carbon footprint out there vs. traditional methods of recycling PET."
With global demand for food-grade recycled PET exceeding supply, rPlanet Earth sees a willing market for its eventual production — and not just from the Vernon facility.
The company is planning to construct similar locations in different parts of the country that will be able to provide PET recycling and packaging on a regional basis.
"We do plan on building four or five of these plants across the United States. That way, we can service all of our customers from coast to coast with a reliable, high-quality supply of packaging products," Daviduk said. "What we're thinking is to locate our plants where there is high-density population. For us, it makes a lot of sense to look at these locations for future plants."
"First, we are going to focus on food and beverage, possibly some cosmetic uses. We think there's a lot of growth beyond that once we establish ourselves," he said at the Packaging Conference in Orlando. "We want to have a diversified product line. We think it's very important for the health and growth of our company."
The company expects to consume all processed PET flake internally. "We won't sell any flake, and so we're going to be going direct from flake to our finished product, whether its sheet or thermoformed or preform," said Daviduk, who founded the firm with co-CEO Joseph Ross.
Daviduk brings a financial services sector background to the partnership, while Ross is a former Bemis Co. Inc. vice president who has founded other packaging companies.
"What we'd like to do over time is to continue to encourage recycling and start to build the company into a national footprint," the co-CEO said.
With the Vernon plant expected to begin operations in just a matter of months, the current market for recycled PET market conditions are favoring the company.
Uncertainty surrounding the export of PET and other plastics to China, as that country moves to better regulate the flow of a variety of recyclables to its shores, means prices have fallen on the West Coast.
The company's end products, he explained, will have recycled content ranging from 25-100 percent, depending on customer packaging needs.
"We do want to bring solutions to the industry. We think it's very important that rPlanet Earth does things differently. We use technology, we use creative thinking, in order to find solutions for packaging issues," Daviduk said.