E-Scrap News

E-plastics processing line to open in South Carolina

A total of $12 million in investments will help PRI focus on testing to fulfill clients’ requests and automation to keep labor costs down.| Courtesy of Plastic Recycling Inc.

Plastic Recycling Inc. will invest $2 million to install an e-plastics sorting line in South Carolina, part of the company’s longer-term push to boost domestic recycling capacity for e-plastics.

The company, abbreviated as PRI, is also investing roughly $10 million to grow its ability to produce recycled resin compounds for use in automobiles and new electronics. 

Together, the projects represent a major expansion for PRI, an Indianapolis-based company that recycles polypropylene, ABS and polystyrene. The company already operates an e-plastics sorting system at a 120,000-square-foot scrap processing facility in Indianapolis. PRI first installed the system, which includes multiple float-sink tanks and an electrostatic separator, about three years ago.

In the next four to six months, PRI plans to install and bring on-line a similar line in Spartanburg, S.C., said Brandon Shaw, marketing manager for the company. 

“There’s a lot of supply and opportunity down there,” Shaw said. 

The roughly $2 million investment will include size-reduction equipment, float-sink tanks, flake sorting, electrostatic separation and more. Processing plastics from consumer electronics, electrical appliances and auto shredder residue, that line will be capable of producing about 25 million pounds per year. 

PRI is just one of several companies pushing to increase domestic recycling outlets for e-plastics and reduce exports to Asia, especially Malaysia, where many e-plastics are currently recycled. 

Boosting extrusion capabilities

PRI is also investing $10 million at its 550,000-square-foot Indianapolis compounding facility, where PRI pelletizes post-consumer PP, ABS and PS, including e-plastics. 

That compounding plant currently has roughly 125 million pounds per year of extrusion capacity, Shaw said. The company has purchased two additional lines – one with a single-screw extruder and the second with a twin-screw extruder – boosting capacity by about 60 million pounds per year, or about 50%. 

The lines, which cost about $3.5 million each, will include automatic feeding systems, pre-blenders, post-blenders, automatic screen changers and more, Shaw said. He said Celectric is supplying the extruders, BHT is providing the conveyors and dosing systems, and Ettlinger is supplying the melt filtration. 

Marco Meloni, PRI’s chief operating officer, explained that the systems will include dosing equipment that will automatically blend different feedstocks, additives and fillers to produce consistent resins that meet customer specifications. Customers will include those producing parts for automobiles and electronics. 

“We are effectively bringing the technology of virgin compounding into recycling,” he said. 

The extrusion lines will sit on multiple floors. Construction of a mezzanine level to hold equipment will begin in April, and the extrusion lines are slated to come on-line around mid-summer. 

The investments in compounding capabilities prepare PRI to handle greater volumes of e-plastics feedstock in the future. 

“We’re putting the extrusion in to satisfy what we’ve already invested in but to also be prepared for more feed streams coming to us in the future,” Shaw said. 

The project, which began last August, also includes building out a $2.5 million lab, Shaw said. That lab is 90% complete right now. 

Meloni said the lab’s R&D and feedstock and finished product testing capabilities will be unrivaled in North America. The lab, which will be staffed by 10 to 12 people, will give PRI the ability to perform 90% of the testing required to qualify recycled resin for use by auto OEMs, testing the thermal, mechanical, chemical and optical properties of the plastic, said Meloni.

Shaw said the lab “is going to be unbelievable.” 

The lines have been designed to maximize automation in terms of controls and moving material, helping PRI save money and compete with Asian plastics reclaimers who enjoy lower labor costs, Meloni said. 

The company is also going through a reorganization that aims to increase the pounds processed per staff hour. That effort, which includes staff training and equipping existing staff with new technologies, will allow PRI to run the new lines and lab without hiring additional employees, Meloni said.

A future with fewer exports?

After South Carolina, PRI is looking to further expand its e-plastics recycling capabilities to the West Coast. 

Joshua Barrick, who oversees business development at PRI, said many electronics recycling companies in the U.S. and Canada want to send their e-plastics to domestic outlets. They’re also feeling pressure from certification standards and changes to the Basel Convention to eschew e-plastics exports.

But sometimes they don’t believe the domestic capacity exists, and often pricing still lures them to export the material, he noted. 

“I think a lot of them say they want to do the right thing, but it comes down to the money is still there over in Malaysia, let’s say,” Barrick said. “So we’re kind of battling with that.” 

He said PRI has the plastics sorting and compounding capabilities and knowledge that some other aspiring domestic e-plastics outlets have lacked. “Some of the places that try to open, try to do it domestically, they don’t have all the pieces,” he said. 

A version of this story appeared in Plastics Recycling Update on March 28. 

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