This closed loop is both extremely compact and highly complex and is ultimately what sets rPlanet Earth apart. “The setup was important for us for a couple of reasons. One is because, as far as we know, it gives us the lowest carbon footprint for packaging worldwide,” explains Bob Daviduk. “Another is that it just made sense for us to have everything under a single roof because it’s a more efficient process. At rPlanet Earth, our goal is to have the lightest possible impact on the environment, on our planet Earth.”
Skipping the pellets
The PET material recycled in rPlanet Earth’s new plant goes directly into the production of preforms, sheet, and thermoformed containers. The decision to produce precisely these three products was based on logical criteria: The primary use for recycled PET is bottle production. For that reason, preforms make up around 35 percent of the rPlanet Earth plant’s output. Thermoformed containers make up around 50 percent,. sheet extrusion about 15 percent of the product mix. rPlanet Earth can produce all three packaging types with up to 100 percent recycled content, depending on customer specifications.
rPlanet Earth bypasses the traditional step of pelletizing, instead using the flake directly in its own plastics production. Together with Krones, the company developed a process in which the still-hot flake is converted into product in three sheet extrusion and two injection molding machines. That reduces the amount of time the PET is heated, which benefits both material quality and energy efficiency.
Concrete plans for expansion
The Krones lines passed final inspection at the end of 2018 and the entire plant is expected to be online by the end of 2019. But Bob Daviduk and Joe Ross are already looking ahead to the next phase. Because of the rising demand for food-grade packaging made from recycled PET, they are already making plans to install a second line in the same building, with 50 percent more capacity, right next to the existing one in Vernon. That would make the Vernon plant the world’s largest PET recycling plant of its kind.
But as if that weren’t enough: In the years ahead, rPlanet Earth wants to open three or four more plants across the country, in regions with high population densities that collect a large amount of post-consumer PET and put them close to their end customers. “We’ll keep Krones busy,” laughs Bob Daviduk. “It will be really exciting for all of us.”