According to a recent report compiled by two major trade association, in 2016, approximately 6.2 billion pounds (2.81 million metric tonnes) of PET bottles were sold in the US. Just 1753 million pounds (795,000 tonnes) or 28.4% were collected for recycling. But not all recycling processes are created equal. When it comes to food grade PET entering the recycling stream, all too much of it is ultimately downcycled.
However, Californian firm CarbonLITE specialises in processing used plastic bottles back into bottle-grade PET resin flakes and pellets that can then be used to manufacture new plastic beverage bottles. The company opened its first bottle-to-bottle plant back in 2012 and currently processes around 2 billion PET bottles there annually.
With two of its major customers, Nestle Waters North America, which has two bottling plants in Dallas, and Pepsico striving to boost the recycled content in their beverage bottles, CarbonLITE recently inaugurated its second facility. Located in Dallas, Texas, the 23,000 square metre plant processes more than 100 million pounds (45,000 tonnes) of plastic bottles annually and can reach throughputs of 6 tonnes per hour.
The feedstock for the $62 million plant comes from material recycling facilities in the form of bales. The PET resin is produced using a method that has received an LNO (letter of non-objection) from the Food & Drug Administration (FDA), allowing it to be used at levels of up to 100% recycled content in the manufacture of PET bottles and containers for direct contact with all food types under cold fill and hot fill conditions.
CarbonLITE engaged Dallas-based construction firm C1S Group as the primary contractor to convert a facility located on Mountain Creek Parkway in southwest Dallas into the recycling plant.
“Although this is a newly constructed building, the as-built facility couldn’t fully support CarbonLITE’s processes,” explains Matt Strong, PE, LEED AP and President of C1S Group.
To prepare the facility for CarbonLITE’s recycling operations, C1S therefore provided new electrical services, adding storage silos, and increasing the height on a 5500 square foot (510 square metre) section of the 230,000 square foot building.
The washing line at the plant, one of the keys to achieving closed loop recycling of PET bottles, was supplied by AMUT.
“CarbonLITE management has over a decade of experience in PET wash lines,” explains Anthony Georges, President of AMUT North America. “We integrated our De-Labeller, AMUT’s patented technology, as well the wet whole bottle pre-wash.”
“When you are dealing with co-mingled MRF bottle bales, you need to be able to detect and remove all non-PET and colour PET containers prior to entering the final washing process.” He continues, “By utilising our double stage, we perform with the first De-Labeller the dry cleaning action able to detach most of the shrink sleeve labels, while the second unit is a wet De-Labeller process to pre-wash the whole bottles and reduce wear effect on grinders blades.”
The wet bottle washing technology utilises the filtered recycled flake washing water and therefore does not increase the consumption of fresh water used in the complete cleaning process. It also contributes to the elimination of outside dirt as well as remaining labels on the whole bottles.
Georges explains that it is critical that the bottles stay intact through these two machines and are not damaged during the actions of De-Labeller. This improves the efficiency and functionality of the following automatic sorting equipment so that the non-PET and colour PET are easier to remove from the clear PET bottle stream. The clear PET bottles will be washed directly in the AMUT wash flake system.
AMUT also supplied the wet grinding system to turn bottles into flakes, along with two of its patented Flake Friction Washers and two of its newest ‘Sink-Float’ separation machines, which are able to capture the polyolefin caps so that these cleaned caps can also have value.
The whole process is engineered to increase the grade quality of the clear PET flakes which comply with the most demanding bottle-to-bottle applications, optimising the value of every bale, while minimising operational costs, fresh water usage, energy and cleaning agents.
“The CarbonLITE PET recycling project comes after the two mega PET recycling plants that AMUT supplied in North America to UNIFI in Reidsville, North Carolina, and to PETSTAR Coca-Cola Mexico,” adds Piergianni Milani, President of AMUT GROUP.
The new plant’s front-end, bale-opening and optical bottle sorting for the plant were supplied by Eugene, Oregon-based Bulk Handling Systems and its subsidiary NRT of Nashville, Tennessee.