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Unifi invests $28 million in advanced plastics recycling system

Clare Goldsberry

September 16, 2016

3 Min Read
Unifi invests $28 million in advanced plastics recycling system

Boosting recycling rates for various plastics is one of the goals of the plastics industry. The recycling rate for U.S. polyethylene terephthalate (PET) container recycling for 2014, the most recent data available, held steady at 31%, according to a report from the National Association for PET Container Resources and Postconsumer Plastic Recyclers.

Recycling technology has improved vastly over the past two decades, which is making recycling of PET fast, easy and accurate. Recently, Unifi Inc. (Greensboro, NC) celebrated the grand opening of its Repreve Bottle Processing Center in Reidsville, NC. Integral to the new Plastics Recycling Facility (PRF) is the front-end PET purification system, designed, manufactured and installed by Eugene, OR–based Bulk Handling Systems (BHS), a global provider of automated sorting systems to the waste processing and recycling industries.

Unifi’s investment of more than $28 million supports the company’s objective of vertical integration into bottle processing as the source of raw materials for its Repreve recycled fiber product line. Unifi’s new system features the latest in screen, air and optical separation technologies from National Recovery Technologies (NRT; Nashville, TN), a member of the BHS family of companies, and Nihot Recycling Technology (Amsterdam). Nine NRT optical units with In-Flight Sorting technology are critical to removal of non-PET plastics.

Among the most advanced in the world, according to Unifi, the plant is capable of processing more than 22,000 pounds per hour of plastic container bales to produce 75 million pounds annually of high-quality, consistently clean bottle flake.

“We chose BHS and NRT because we felt the technology, process design, engineering and customer service were all first class,” said Mark McNeill, Vice President of Technology and Business Development for Unifi. “We have not been disappointed. The project management and startup have been exceptional. This state-of-the-art system is smart and robust, and delivers high rates of purity and yield. With the support of BHS and NRT, it will continue to be a tremendous asset to Unifi for years to come.

NRT has developed and patented a number of technologies using near infrared, X-ray and color-line scan camera sorting. In May, the company announced a next-generation platform for the company’s SpydIR and ColorPlus optical sorters that incorporate NRT’s proprietary In-Flight Sorting technology and continuous auto-calibration that the company promises will improve NRT’s already industry-leading recovery rates.

“For our customers, a couple of percentage points in recovery can significantly impact their bottom line,” said NRT President Matthais Erdmannsdoerfer. “Through mapping the trajectory of ejected commodities with high-speed cameras, we found that a small percentage were bouncing back and not being recovered. The new units offer a sleek, modern design, but, more importantly, the new shape provides advanced trajectory control that virtually eliminates ‘bounce backs’ of any ejected objects.”

Erdmannsdoerfer added that the company’s “latest technology is at work for Unifi, including In-Flight Sorting and PET Boost, maximizing the recovery and reuse of clear PET to create Repreve products and capturing other plastic commodities. The new Repreve Bottle Processing Center is great for the recycling industry and Unifi should be commended for it forward-thinking leadership. The company is committed to innovation, in this system and with its business model, and provides a strong domestic source to help drive a circular economy.”

Unifi commented that some of the world’s favorite brands, including Levi, Ford and The North Face, use Repreve in a variety of auto, outdoor, home and apparel products. Since its inception, Unifi has recycled more than 4 billion plastic water bottles into Repreve products.

About the Author(s)

Clare Goldsberry

Until she retired in September 2021, Clare Goldsberry reported on the plastics industry for more than 30 years. In addition to the 10,000+ articles she has written, by her own estimation, she is the author of several books, including The Business of Injection Molding: How to succeed as a custom molder and Purchasing Injection Molds: A buyers guide. Goldsberry is a member of the Plastics Pioneers Association. She reflected on her long career in "Time to Say Good-Bye."

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