The Recycling Partnership is awarding the nonprofit group's first three grants through its PET Recycling Coalition with a total value of $750,000.
More are expected later this year.
For this initial round of funding, the partnership is awarding grants to DAK Americas LLC, Direct Pack Inc. and Recycle Source LLC.
Direct Pack is using the money to help construct a new PET recycling facility in Mexicali, Mexico, which will source used plastics from material recovery facilities in the Southwest.
DAK Americas is using money to install a new robotic sorter at the company's existing plastic reclamation plant in Richmond, Ind.
And Recycle Source is upgrading automated technology — specifically optical sortation — at a material recovery facility near Pittsburgh.
The PET coalition was formed in 2022 by the Recycling Partnership to help bolster PET recycling and is modeled after the partnership's existing Polypropylene Recycling Coalition.
Adam Gendell is director of system optimization at the Recycling Partnership and leads the PET coalition. He explained that there are plenty of existing efforts taking place to expand the supply of recycled PET from the marketplace. The coalition's work, instead, focuses on helping recyclers capture more of the PET that already runs through their processing systems.
The grants, for optical sortation, robotics and creation of a new facility, are all aimed to help in that cause.
Gendell pointed to the expected impact of improving sortation at a plastic reclaimer as one reason for granting money to DAK Americas. "We know that both MRFs and reclaimers can increase their efficiency and get better yield, capture more PET, generate more [recycled PET]. But the volumes that are aggregated at any one reclaimer are typically going to dwarf the volumes at any one given MRF," he explained.
But there is a chance to move the needle at the MRF level as well.
Money being granted to Recycle Source for its MRF in the Hazelwood section of Pittsburgh, will allow for the sortation of PET thermoforms from the recycling stream. The company's current optical system does not allow for that level of sortation. Pittsburgh is one of the largest municipalities that does not accept thermoforms in its recycling stream, so the installation of improved optical sortation will open up the opportunity to capture that portion of the PET stream, Gendell explained.
As for Direct Pack, the grant is going to partially fund a $10 million recycling facility that's just now coming on line in Mexicali, Mexico, near the border with the United States, Direct Pack President Craig Sneddon said. This is the company's second such plant and is called El Segundo, which translates into "the second" in English.
"This El Segundo plant will be equipped with our new wash line technology. We engineered that technology in house, it's important to say. These are highly specialized wash lines which includes a friction washing system that allows us to remove paper labels, various adhesive and food particulate commonly found in PET thermoformed and blow molded containers," he said.
Having this enhanced wash system allows Direct Pack to take a higher percentage of thermoforms, which are more difficult to decontaminate than PET bottles, in their overall recycling mix when making new recycled PET.
While he was hesitant to describe the wash line in detail, Snedden provided a general description of the process.
"It's mechanically inclined to get more agitation out of the process to increase the frication to allow the scrubbing action of the particulates against one another. We don't want to get too detailed into that part of it. It's a proprietary process we came up with that we could not find in the marketplace," he said.
While the PET coalition declined to break down the amount of grant money going for each project, Snedden did report Direct Pack's grant is for $400,000.
Gendell indicated the coalition expects to award more grant money in future rounds of funding later this year.