In Reidsville, North Carolina Unifi, Inc. (NYSE:UFI) has celebrated the opening its REPREVE® Bottle Processing Center as part of its new Plastics Recycling Facility (PRF).
The plant, which features bottle sorting and processing equipment at its front end, will allow the firm to produce its REPREVE fibre from recycled PET bottles. The material is used by a number of major brands including Levi’s, Ford and The North Face.
The front end PET purification system has been designed, manufactured and installed by Eugene, Oregon based recycling sytems manufacturer, Bulk Handling Systems (BHS).
Unifi’s investment of more than $28 million supports the company’s objective of vertical integration into bottle processing as the source of raw materials for its REPREVE® recycled fiber product line.
“The commissioning of this facility is the first time Unifi has taken the process in-house,” explains Rich Reardon regional sales manager for Bulk Handling Systems.
The plant is capable of processing more than 22,000 pounds (10 metric tonnes) per hour of plastic container bales to produce 75 million pounds (34,000 tonnes) annually of the highest quality and most consistent clean bottle flake.
The system features the latest in screen, air and optical separation technologies from the BHS Family of Companies, including BHS, National Recovery Technologies (NRT) and Nihot. Nine NRT optical units with In-Flight Sorting® technology are critical to removal of non-PET plastics.
“We started with an analysis of the potential in-bound material,” Reardon tells WMW. “In terms of the quality and quantity of material going in it was very similar to a bottle-to-bottle operation.”
“The quality of Unifi’s PET based fibre was first and foremost, but they also wanted the ability to sell PET flake,” he continues. “As a former flake purchaser themselves they recognised there was an opportunity there in terms of selling high-grade flake.”
“Traditionally similar processing systems have been smaller, but they’ve also tried to get by with having a single or maybe a few optical units that perform multiple duties,” Reardon adds. “But in our experience when you increase the capacity and start asking these machines to make multiple ejections of you end up with fractions that are not very pure.”
Reardon explains that the set up at the Unifi facility has multiple sorting units each targeting a single fraction which allows for much higher purity and a high throughput.
He adds that another advantage of having so many sorters is that it enables Unifi to utilise the by-products of the facility.
“In this particular instance, and I think this is really positive for recycling, is that there’s a customer that’s driven by an end product,” he says. “Their productby its nature has to be made out of recycled material, so they’re making an investment for the future to be able to guarantee the quantity and quality of their supply, and successful operation.”
“It’s positive for recycling because we tend to think of recycling as the recovery of material, but without a full awareness of what the end use is. If you don’t have an end use for the recycled product then recycling fails, so being driven by a fully developed market for an end product is really a key to the success here,” concludes Reardon.
For more on the project and to read a Q&A with Tim Cole, VP manufacturing at Unifi, don’t miss the imminent September/October issue of Waste Management World.
A video exploring the new facility can also be viewed below.
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