Coke plant reopens
By Editorial Staff, Resource Recycling
The embattled Coca-Cola Recycling and NURRC joint-venture in Spartanburg, South Carolina has restarted operations, although many are skeptical the plant will ever be able to live up to the hype.
The facility restarted operations officially August 22, after having been shut down since March. Following the initial plant shutdown, all 50 workers and most of the office and administrative staff were laid off.
Promising to recycle 100 million pounds of food-contact PET per year when fully operational, the 120,000 square foot facility's actual capacity is only half that (approximately 56 million pounds) and despite having undergone at least four overhauls of its equipment and recycling process (according to extensive coverage in Plastics News) it has yet to add its planned second processing line.
When it opened in 2009, the Spartanburg facility was seen as the linchpin of Coke's plan to reach 10 percent recycled content in all its beverage bottles. Early on though, there were challenges.
Many bottle-to-bottle recycling processes rely on whole bottle washing techniques to process material, where recovered bottles are washed to remove dirt, residue, labels and other contaminants, then shredded into flake for processing. However the Coke/NURRC plant opted for dirty flake processing, where recovered bottles are shredded into flake, then cleaned with a combination of washing and blown air. However, given newly redesigned bottles which are thinner and lighter weight than previous designs, significant quantities of otherwise recoverable material simply blew off the processing line, according to industry reports.
Additionally, Coca-Cola's insistence on using only curbside recovered bottles exacerbated these difficulties. The bottles collected from non-deposit-redemption sources were dirtier than source-separated deposit bottles, and when processed using the dirty flake method, did not yield material suitable for food-contact applications. As a result, much of the material that was produced at the Spartanburg plant was sold to strapping or fiber producers.
While the company says major engineering revisions have taken place in advance of the plant's reopening, indications are that it is still preferring to source from curbside collection programs. Additionally, Coke is rumored to be trying to sell its 49 percent stake in the company, signaling even Coke has doubts about the viability of revisions to the plant.