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Coca-Cola revives its US recycling plant

By Helen Glaberson , 24-Aug-2011

Coca-Cola and United Resource Recovery (URRC) are injecting life back into their US PET recycling plant after a six month project to overhaul operations.

According to news reports, the joint venture, which makes food-grade pellets, was shut down last March.

However, URRC president Carlos Gutierrez told FoodProductionDaily.com the Atlanta-based plant was never closed and that the firms had instead reduced operations while they modified some of the equipment at the bottle sorting line.

Before the modifications, the firms were losing too much yield due to poor quality of the incoming post consumer collected bottles, said Gutierrez.

“Like most new initiatives, we have learned along the way and had to adjust accordingly,” he said.

“We hope the changes made during restructuring will lead to successful and sustainable operations.”

The president said challenges with subcontractors had led to some work taking longer than expected.

Gutierrez would not give any exact production figures for the updated lines, but said the firms hoped to exceed prior production volumes.

Modifications

He said changes had been made to avoid excessive yield losses during the sorting step that could not be achieved previously.

Gutierrez denied claims that the quality of the bottle food-grade had been worked on, saying that this aspect had always been acceptable to customers.

He said the companies have been able to improve their yield through better full bottle label removal that the sorting line had previously been discarding.

In addition, the firms had worked to eliminate “clumps” caused by high compression bales.

These changes have been accomplished by the installation of new proprietary machinery, said Gutierrez.

Industry scepticism

According to Plastics News, there has been industry scepticism over the recycling facility, with sources saying the plant’s technology was not compatible with newer lightweight bottles used by soft drink and water bottle companies.

“Some of the bottles are just flying off the line and all they have left for recycling are the necks and bottoms,” said one recycling company president.

Recent reports, such as European Plastics, said changes made during the plant shut-down aimed to correct such problems.

“The problems that we have with light weighted bottles are no different than anyone else in the industry,” said Gutierrez.

“If the lightweight bottles get through the sorting line, we can recycle them with the same yield efficiency as any other regular bottles,” he added.

Rumoured sale

In June, Plastics News’ cited sources that Coca-Cola was looking to put the plant up for sale.

Talking to this publication, Gutierrez did not give a direct response to this claim but said the URRC was working with Coca-Cola to evaluate a number of options in the hope of leading to sustainable operations.

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