rPlanet Earth opened a new closed-loop polyethylene terephthalate (PET) recycling facility in October 2018 in Vernon, California, US, which is claimed to be the world’s first vertically integrated recycled PET (rPET) plant.

The recycling facility was built with an investment of approximately $100m and created 140 new jobs in the region.

rPlanet Earth plans to expand its footprint in the US and other countries with new investments, as well as the development of other new plants. The company also plans to expand the Vernon facility with the addition of a second production line within the next two years. The expansion is expected to generate another 260 jobs.

The rPET manufactured by rPlanet Earth will have 60% lesser carbon footprint than virgin resin and 20% lesser than the rPET products manufactured by other companies.

Details of rPlanet Earth’s recycling facility

rPlanet Earth’s new state-of-the-art facility spans over 302,000ft² (28,060m²) and comprises a recycling and manufacturing plant. The recycling plant has a clear height of 36ft, while the manufacturing plant has a clear height of 55ft.

The facility has a total annual production capacity of 80 million pounds (Mlb) of recycled PET. It is equipped with seven plastics processing lines, including two Husky injection moulding systems, three Welex® extrusion lines, a bulk handling systems (BHS) front-end bottle sorting system, and two large Lyle thermoforming machines.

The production line also includes thickness scanners, edge trim systems, winders, and other equipment.

The Welex® extrusion lines are equipped with EDI® extrusion dies and BKG® melt delivery components. They include 75in-wide extruders, which can be configured for co-extrusion, and XSL Navigator controls with the capability of integrating with plant-wide automation systems.

“rPlanet Earth’s new state-of-the-art facility spans over 302,000ft² (28,060m²) and comprises a recycling and manufacturing plant.”

The extrusion lines also feature Nordson’s BKG HiCon screen changers, BlueFlow gear pumps, and static mixers, and Nordson’s EDI® Ultraflex sheet dies.

The manufacturing plant features storage areas, two bridge cranes, equipment and silo foundations, and a three-level office.

Recycling process at rPlanet Earth’s recycling facility

The new recycling facility collects bottles, clamshell containers and other packaging waste from curbside collection. The material is subjected to multiple sorting procedures using magnetised sorters, which remove foreign matter such as wires.

Near-infrared scanners are then used to identify PET and separate them from other polymers. The next step involves sorting of PET materials based on colour. A dry system then grinds the material into flake, which is washed with water in the wash line. The material is cleaned before being transferred into a tank for gravity separation of PET.

The flake is then transferred into a Krones MetaPure® reactor for decontamination process, which uses approximately 200°C heat and vacuum followed by solid state polymerisation (SSP) to increase the intrinsic viscosity levels of the rPET.

The material is further processed into food-grade sheets, thermoformed containers, and injection moulded preforms. The recycling operation of the Vernon plant uses 90% lesser water compared to a PET resin plant.

rPlanet Earth products

rPlanet Earth’s recycling plant converts plastic packaging waste into rPET products. The products are similar to those produced from virgin material in terms of purity and physical attributes.

Products manufactured at the facility include drinking cups, clamshell containers, and food-grade packaging solutions.

Financing details

rPlanet Earth received $20.5m in financing for the new facility under the New Markets Tax Credit (NMTC) federal programme, which is aimed at fostering investments in businesses and real estate projects in low-income regions.

NMTC provided $8m of the financing, while Citi provided $7.5m, in addition to $6.6m in equity and MBS Urban Initiatives provided $5m.

rPlanet Earth also received a $3m grant from the California Department of Resources Recycling and Recovery under its Recycled Fibre Plastic and Glass Grant programme.

Contractors involved

The three Welex® sheet lines installed at the plant were provided by Graham Engineering Corporation.

Nordson Corporation provided the EDI® extrusion dies and BKG® melt delivery components.

Xebec Realty Partners and GAA Architects were responsible for the construction and design of the entire facility.

Krones supplied the BHS front-end bottle sorting system, while raSmith provided civil engineering services.