Mechanical Recycling Plant for Flexible Films Fully Operational in Minnesota

Mechanical Recycling Plant for Flexible Films Fully Operational in Minnesota
Digital Exclusive

A recycling plant for flexible films in Minnesota opened in mid-November, with both food-grade and non-food-grade post-consumer recycled (PCR) resin being produced.

The project involved multiple stakeholders, including an equity investment by Charter Next Generation (CNG), which is a member of the Flexible Packaging Association (FPA). In May 2023, Wisconsin-based CNG signed its first formal agreement with plant operator, Myplas USA, to accept some of the PCR resin being produced, says Apurva Shah, CNG’s director of strategic initiatives and partnerships.

“This was significant because it enabled Myplas to focus on starting up the operation while having a key partner ready to evaluate, qualify, and commercialize its PCR [resin] in the market,” Shah says.

In October, CNG’s operations leadership team—including John Corsi, chief operating officer, and Brandon Hall, executive vice president of operations—traveled to the plant in Rogers, Minnesota, to evaluate the first batches of PCR resin. CNG’s evaluation process includes examining recycled resins through multiple parameters such as odor, aesthetics, and film performance, Shah adds.

Other equity investors include General Mills, Target, Ecolab, and Schwan’s Co., which are all members of MBOLD, a coalition of Minnesota-based agriculture and consumer packaged goods (CPG) companies. The South Africa-based parent company of Myplas USA also is an equity stakeholder.

Efforts to reach Andrew Pieterse, Myplas USA CEO, were unsuccessful. But Pieterse previously has said the $24.2 million project would employ about 250 people and recycle about 90 million pounds of low- and high-density polyethylene packaging.

The mechanical recycling process involves taking film waste and then sorting, washing, grinding, melting, and pelletizing it so the pellets can be reused in new applications.

JoAnne Berkenkamp, MBOLD managing director, says the initiative focuses on catalyzing a circular economy for flexible film in the upper Midwest but has generated a lot of interest from other regions, especially as it pertains to how the various stakeholders came together to see the project through.

“We have been very happy to share our story—warts and all–—and explain how we’ve done it, explain the challenges that we’ve experienced, and to encourage others to explore how this could be a model,” she says. “People will need local leadership to instigate and lead at that level. But that’s really the way to go.”

The recycling plant originally had been slated to open earlier in 2023. But like any large project, she adds, obstacles along the way needed to be overcome. For example, there were supply chain disruptions during the pandemic and the war in Ukraine.

“None of us anticipated, for instance, that the largest steel plant in Europe would be bombed and have ripple effects through the equipment manufacturing supply chain across Europe,” Berkenkamp says. “But we weathered those storms.”

The initiative has been complex because numerous entities have been involved, Berkenkamp also says. (MBOLD is an initiative of Greater MSP, the economic development agency for the greater Minneapolis-St. Paul region.) In addition to the equity partners and Myplas, other stakeholders have included the Minnesota Department of Employment and Economic Development, The Alliance to End Plastic Waste, and Closed Loop Partners, a New York-based investment firm.

“One of the core messages from our experience is that it is all about relationships and shared ambitions across the value chain,” she adds. “It takes leaders on a regional basis who really have the commitment and the courage to collaborate in a pre-competitive way. We’re showing that it can be done, but it takes that level of commitment to achieve something like this. And you have to have the tenacity to stick with it.”

“This has been a terrific example of how to collaborate across multiple partners—around a shared ambition,” she says.

Thomas A. Barstow is senior editor of FlexPack VOICE®.