he recycling of plastics, primarily of post-consumer bottles and bags, continues to gain in popularity. The American Chemistry Council reports that more than 2.3 billion pounds (1 billion kg.) of plastic bottles and more than 830 million pounds (376 million kg.) of plastic bags and film were recycled in the U.S. in 2007. Recycling of rigid plastic products – chiefly pallets, crates and other packaging materials – rose to 325 million pounds (147 million kg.).
As recycling grows, so do the corporations involved in the recycling business. In the past year, several companies have opened recycling plants that are the largest in their particular regions or categories.
Bottle to Bottle
Toluca, a city of about 700,000 people about 40 miles (64 km.) west of Mexico City, is home to Latin America's largest plastic bottle recycling operation. PetStar, a subsidiary of Houston-based recycling specialist Avangard
, opened its 300,000-sq.-ft. (27,870-sq.-m.) facility in the Parque Industrial San Cayetano in February 2009.
Jaime Camara, director general, PetStar
"We have a large infrastructure for collection of post-consumer bottles in Mexico, which we collect from throughout Mexico," says Jamie Camara, director general for PetStar. "We have 14 collection centers, and Toluca was the best location in terms of logistics for bringing the bales from our collection centers to be recycled here. It's a good location for delivery to our customers as a big portion of Mexico's PET bottles are manufactured in Toluca."
PetStar employs 75 at the new plant. Avangard, which will supply the PetStar plant, is the largest collector of post-consumer plastic in Mexico. Avangard is a major exporter of recycled plastic from Mexico to the U.S. and China.
The US$35-million facility can process 30,000 tons of bottles (or close to one billion bottles), Camara says, and the company plans to double capacity within two years. The International Finance Corporation, part of the World Bank, provided a $24.5-million loan for the project, which also features a social responsibility program aimed at diverting children from collecting bottles from landfills and getting them into classrooms. PetStar will reimburse families for lost income.
Coca-Cola opened what it says is the world's largest plastic bottle recycling plant in Spartanburg, S.C.
and its partner United Resource Recovery Corp.
opened a $60-million, 100,000-sq.-ft. (9,290-sq.-m.) bottle-to-bottle recycling plant in Spartanburg, S.C., in January. The plant employs about 100 and will produce about 100 million pounds of food-grade PET plastic for reuse annually by the end of 2009. Coke says it is the largest recycling facility of its kind in the world.
"Coke has been working with URCC for the past 10 years or so to advance PET recycling," says Coca-Cola spokeswoman Kirsten Witt.
The Spartanburg plant is equipped to recycle 2 billion 20-ounce bottles. Coca-Cola also operates recycling facilities in Austria, the Philippines, Mexico City, Switzerland and Australia.
, a U.K. firm in the plastics recycling business since 2006, recently completed a $21-million expansion at its Hemswell, England, facility which moved it into the food-grade plastics recycling business. The company employs 75 at a facility its CEO, Jonathan Short, describes as the largest of its type in Europe.
"We chose the location to be near our suppliers," Short says. "We are in an old World War II aircraft hangar. It was nothing predetermined. As it happens, we are very central in the U.K. If you put a pin in the map, we're almost in the middle. We collect plastic from Aberdeen to Plymouth, and the road links here are good. There's also a good quality work force in the area."
Short says the U.K. has grown keen to recycling in recent years.
"If you go back to 2003 or 2004, only 25 tons of plastic bottles were collected in the U.K. Today, that number is more like 200,000. The amount of collection has gone up quite dramatically and I do believe it will increase. The public is quite enthused about recycling. If we make it easy for them, they will do it. It's a growing sport, I suppose."
Closed Loop Recycling
, another U.K. firm, is, also in expansion mode. The company says its first plant, which opened in East London in June 2008, was the first in the U.K. to begin food-grade recycling. The plant recycles both PET and HDPE plastic bottles. It has a capacity of 35,000 tons per year, or about 875 million bottles.
"We were the first company to take both PET and HDPE to food grade under one roof," says Chris Dow, managing director.
Chris Dow is managing director of Closed Loop Recycling in the U.K.
Closed Loop, which uses technology developed by URRC, plans to open its second plant in Northern Wales during the second quarter of 2010. It will have a capacity of 50,000 tons of mixed plastic bottles. Each of the plants will employ about 55. Dow says he is also looking at potential sites for a third plant.
Major brands such as Solo Cup Europe, Coca-Cola Enterprises, Nampak and Logoplaste have already committed to buying the food-grade plastic output from the second plant.
Dow says there is a recycling revolution under way in the U.K., with an estimated 40 percent of plastic bottles currently being recycled.
"Recycling has never been more enthusiastically embraced as it is in the U.K. at the moment," Dow says.
, the world's largest manufacturer of plastic bags, opened what it says is the largest closed-loop plastic bag recycling facility in the world in Vernon, Ind., in 2005. The 100,000-sq.-ft. (9,290-sq.-m.) plant, which employs about 50, is capable of reprocessing 1 million pounds per month of used plastic bags and wraps.
Hilex's recycling operation is largely supplied through its bag-to-bag program, whereby retailers collect plastic bags of all sorts in bins. Hilex has supplied retailers with about 30,000 bins.
"Because the logistics are there, stores co-mingle bags and wrap, and we then reprocess it and make new bags," says Mark Daniels, vice president of marketing and environmental affairs at Hilex-Poly. "We try and keep it cost-neutral as part of our environmental platform by reducing the amount of virgin resin we use."
A growing number of cities across the U.S. are contemplating bans or taxes on plastic bags. Daniels says the emphasis should be placed on recycling and educating consumers about the importance of recycling.
"If you tax or ban bags, consumers will be going to reusable or paper bags. There are some concerns about cross-contamination with meats when in reusable bags. A lot of people wind up using reusable bags for other purposes. Paper bags take more energy to make than plastic bags and are more expensive to manufacture and have a higher carbon footprint. In the last four years, recycling of plastic bags is up 700 percent. The proof is in the pudding."
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