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Solid gains in bottle-to-bottle recycling

Closed-loop, bottle-to-bottle recycling is taking a big leap forward in a Canadian town called Shelburne, some 60 miles north of Toronto.

That’s where Ice River Springs, a bottled water company headquartered in Feversham, Ontario, is converting an industrial building into a PET recycling plant. This makes Ice River Springs the first bottled water company in North America to self-manufacture its own resin.

“Our goal,” says Ice River Springs president Jamie Gott, “is to eliminate our dependency upon foreign virgin PET resin by self-manufacturing recycled resin from baled post-consumer plastic purchased from Municipal Recycling Centres.”

Some pretty specialized equipment is required to purify and flake the PET that comes in from Canada’s Blue Box system. Equally specialized is the gear that converts the flake back into a food-grade product that can take the place of virgin PET. Ice River Springs is betting on AMUT S.p.A. for the sorting, cleaning, and flaking part of this process and Starlinger for the purification of the clean rPET material. According to Gott, the AMUT system was judged most cost-effective and used a minimum amount of water, chemicals, and energy. Starlinger, he adds, has a Solid State Poly-condensation technology that effectively purifies PET flake and keeps energy consumption and cost to a minimum. The Starlinger system converts flake to PET pellets, which are then used to injection-mold preforms for the next generation of water bottles.

In addition to bottling its own water under its own brand, Ice River Springs also sells preforms to a major North American soft drink manufacturer in the U.S. Should that soft drink manufacturer convert to rPET preforms, the number of PET bottles made from 100% rPET would rise considerably. No wonder Ice River Springs’ long-term plan includes more than 60 new full-time employees supporting the new initiative.

What’s fascinating about the new facility in Shelburne is the number of environmental benefits that ripple outward from it. For example, the bottle-to-bottle recycling process uses less energy than it takes to produce virgin PET from fossil fuels. In addition, since most virgin PET comes from Asia, the Shelburne plant will reduce consumption of fuel formerly required to bring PET from Asia to Shelburne. Moreover, Ontario recyclers will no longer need to sell their baled PET to Asia, further reducing transport-based fuel consumption. And finally, purchase of baled PET on this scale in Ontario will provide a stable demand for baled post-consumer plastic. This in turn will stabilize prices, make recycling centers more financially feasible, and will help to promote recycling and keep plastic bottles out of landfills.

Ice River Springs isn’t the only one pushing the boundaries of closed-loop recycling. Since last October, Global PET in Perris, CA, has been washing, grinding, extruding, and thermoforming PET into clamshell packages using nothing but post-consumer recycled PET. Called the Bottle Box, the innovative container has been immortalized in a YouTube video whose enthusiasm is positively infectious.

If you haven’t seen it yet, check it out at Making the Bottle Box project more intriguing is that Global PET received a grant of nearly $7 million from the state of California and established a 10-year partnership agreement with the Plastic Recycling Corp. of California for 60 million pounds of discarded PET bottles.

“The amazing grant and our partnership with PRCC has really provided us with a competitive advantage and has put us one step ahead,” says Nadim Bahou, Global PET president.

Hats off to Bahou and Gott. Efforts like theirs help stem the avalanche of negative publicity that packaging too often attracts and restore some balance to the discussion of packaging’s role in society.

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