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Procter & Gamble backs new technology for recycling polypropylene

Jim Johnson | PLASTICS NEWS

One of the largest consumer products companies is helping launch a plastics recycling plant near Ironton, Ohio, that promises to change the face of polypropylene recovery.

Backers of the $120 million project, at the site of a former Dow Chemical Co. polystyrene plant that closed last year, plan to produce recycled resin that's virtually the same as new.

Procter & Gamble Co. is licensing its patented PP recycling approach to a company called PureCycle Technologies.

"One of the best ways to drive more recycled plastic is to enable the recycled plastic to be used in higher value ways and that's precisely what we're endeavoring to do," said Mike Otworth, CEO of Pure Cycle.

"I would say it is a purification process," Otworth said of the technology. "Although there is not a chemical reaction to the process, it is more of a physical transformation."

PureCycle is purchasing 30 acres, including some existing buildings that will be used for offices and storage. The company also will construct processing equipment that will operate on an outside pad.

The project will be built in two phases, first a small-scale plant expected to open in January and a full-scale plant slated for 2020.

Starting smaller will allow the company to "understand the dynamics of the feedstock and what mix of feedstock provides us with the optimal mix," the CEO said.

"The need is that there's a lot of different materials that you can use as feedstock. There's post-consumer and there's post-industrial feedstocks, and all of these different feedstocks have different physical properties," Otworth said.

The plant will ultimately have the capacity to reprocess 100 million pounds of PP per year, resulting in 80 million pounds of output. Employment, at full production, will be about 65.

The former Dow location provides a "wish list" of existing amenities needed to start operations, including both rail and Ohio River access as well as proper electricity service and a building previously used for material handling, Otworth said. The location also is relatively close to P&G, based in Cincinnati.

"This technology, which can remove virtually all contaminates and colors from used plastic, has the capacity to revolutionize the plastics recycling industry by enabling P&G and companies around the world to tap into sources of recycled plastics that deliver nearly identical performance and properties as virgin materials in a broad range of applications," said Kathy Fish, chief technology officer at P&G, in a statement.

P&G is interested in plastics recycling as the company has goals of doubling the amount recycled resin used in plastics packaging by 2020.

PureCycle said its efforts also support P&G's vision of using 100 percent renewable or recycled materials and having no consumer waste go to landfills.

PureCycle is operated by Innventure, a Chicago-based company founded by Otworth and former Walgreens Boots Alliance Inc. CEO Greg Wasson. Innventure is focused on commercializing innovative technology, and its initial mission is to create new businesses using proprietary P&G technologies. PureCycle was founded in 2015.

"We really hope that in addition to making a higher-value product available to a broad base of industries, that what we're able to do ultimately is to keep a lot of waste stream plastic out of the environment, out of landfills," Otworth said.

"This project was born of an unmet need. In the case of P&G, it was a need and a desire by the company and consumers for packaging with more recycled content," Otworth said. "This, obviously, is a need that goes beyond the CPG [consumer packaged goods] industry."

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