Lerma, Mexico — Post-industrial recycler Arpema Plásticos SA de CV will install a 262-foot-long washing line able to handle both rigid and flexible plastics at a new facility close to Mexico City in May and is already considering the possibility of adding more lines.
It plans to supply major resin producers with recycled material, including polypropylene and low and high density polyethylene.
"Two important suppliers of prime materials have come to us because they want to make composites containing 70 percent prime material and 30 percent recycled material," Arpema owner and CEO Pedro Arnauda told Plastics News. "The idea is to enable [consumer packaged goods] companies that are committed to using recycled materials in their packaging to achieve their targets."
Consumers, he said, have been waiting for such material, "which will be successful and 100 percent sustainable," for some time.
Mexico, he insisted, has sufficient waste plastic to provide material for several washing lines.
"The plan is to buy more lines and install them near the source of the waste plastic," he said, talking about different parts of the country. "But we have to go step by step."
The machine, supplied by Wipa Werkzeug-und Maschinenbau GmbH of Stadtlohn, near Düsseldorf, Germany, can reprocess 1.5 tons of flexible waste and 3.5 tons of rigid plastic waste per hour, Arnauda said, adding: "It really is two lines in one."
The line will be installed in a new 73,195-square-foot facility in the Lerma industrial zone, 32 miles southwest of Mexico City, and be operated 24 hours a day, seven days a week by a staff of 60.
"This is the most technologically advanced machine of its kind in Mexico for sure," Arnauda said in an interview at the company's office and warehouse, near the new facility. Arpema currently employs two pelletizers, one of which is fitted with an Intarema laser filter, supplied by Erema Group GmbH, of Ansfelden, Austria, at the warehouse.
The new line will incorporate an extruder/pelletizer with laser filters and dispensers "to give added value to the resin we create," with all the material for washing coming either from landfills or Mexican agricultural land.
According to Mexico's Secretariat of Agriculture, Livestock, Rural Development, Fisheries and Food (SAGARPA) in late 2018, the country is the world's 11th-largest agricultural and livestock producer and the third-largest in Latin America.
Agricultural and fishing output was expected to grow by about 3 percent last year, SAGARPA said, with crop production, including corn, sugarcane, sorghum, wheat, tomatoes and avocados, accounting for 50 percent of the total.
Arnauda, who founded Arpema in 2010, said the company has never hesitated to invest in technology "because we consider that it's the correct way to do business today."
"At the beginning, the idea was to wash stretch film from companies like Walmart. But the recent attacks on plastics have encouraged prime material-manufacturing companies to come to us and form a kind of joint venture.
"Because of the strong demand for the material produced by Arpema," he added, "we realized there was insufficient material to satisfy requirements, especially because the companies generating the waste were investing in machinery to produce [recycled] material for their own consumption.
"Bearing this [shortfall in post-industrial waste] in mind, we decided to invest in a washing line to give ourselves other supply sources," Arnauda said.
Arnauda and the company's team of collaborators, which he praises effusively, started to investigate the feasibility of buying a washing line "but a washing line with the right technology."
"We have seen a lot companies that bought the wrong technology and have been forced to close shortly afterwards," he said.
The young entrepreneur and his team traveled extensively throughout Europe, calling on a variety of would-be suppliers and visiting trade fairs across the world, including in the United States and Asia, before finally choosing the Wipa package.
Half the line was shipped in March and the rest will be shipped at the end of April, three months behind schedule, according to Arnauda.
"Delivery time was set at six months, but they took nine months," he said, shrugging his shoulders. "We chose Wipa because the quality of the machinery was superior to that of the others, particularly the technology and the steel. Obviously the price is higher, but it's worth it."
Arnauda obtained a "substantial line of credit" from Grupo Santander, extended after the Spanish banking corporation's investigators submitted him and the project's feasibility to "months of exhaustive probing."
"We're grateful for the confidence they have had in us, enabling this sustainability project to move forward," he said.
Arnauda graduated with a degree in civil law from the Anáhuac University in the north of Mexico City. He became interested in plastics and sustainability while, as a lawyer, representing a plastics industry client in 2005.
He owns a second company, Novuspack SA de CV, which started operations in Lerma in early 2016 making polypropylene sports drink bottles.
"I'm very optimistic about the recycling industry," he said, emphasizing that Arpema will always have the option of exporting its products and not just be confined to the Mexican market. "There will always be a global demand."
Asked about his future plans for Arpema, he said he would like to float the company on the stock exchange within a few years. "It's difficult to grow at the rate the industry demands by yourself," he said.
"It's been a big effort," he added, speaking in the present tense. "I put everything back into the company, just taking out what I need to live and putting the money back to enable the company to grow healthily."
He added: "But what has made all of this possible is the great team of collaborators that the company can rely on."