Kal-Polymers extends its reach in North America

April 28, 2021
Despite COVID hurdles, the company has nearly doubled production of resins compounded from post-industrial materials at its Flowery Branch, Ga., plant and is pursuing the goal of processing post-consumer resin.

This story appeared in the May 2021 edition of Plastics Recycling magazine.

Canadian recycler Kal-Polymers, which produces compounded resins from often difficult-to-process post-industrial materials, has become a substantial player in the North American market by acquiring a U.S. facility and significantly upgrading its capacity and production capabilities.

The Mississauga, Ontario-based recycler acquired the plant from Sable Polymer Solutions in Flowery Branch, Ga., about one hour northeast of Atlanta, in early 2019. The location was an important strategic move. “We wanted a distribution presence in the Southern United States,” says Gobi Saha, president of Kal-Polymers.

The company has invested about $8 million in upgrades for the Georgia plant thus far, adding a highly customized recycling line, providing compounding capabilities for the first time and installing a 300-ton chiller that is sized for future growth. There have also been many improvements made to optimize the manufacturing process.

“We are continuously improving our systems, processes, laboratory and hiring staff to ultimately change the plant towards a completely different mindset,” Saha says.

The new line has the potential to process 20 million pounds of material per year, effectively doubling the total output of the Flowery Branch plant.

A second new line was ordered for the Georgia plant, but COVID-19 travel restrictions complicated its delivery and installation, so the line was installed in Kal-Polymer’s Mississauga facility instead. “It has been slow to reach its 20-million-pound capacity as a result of computer challenges and other speed bumps,” Saha says. “It is a complex line and COVID travel restrictions have meant European technicians could not travel freely, but we are getting there.”

Kal-Polymers has a unique approach to buying recycling lines. It selects a general contractor, then specifies exactly which components it wants to include.

“There might be components from eight to 10 different manufacturers in a single line,” Saha says. “The main contractor hooks most of it up and computerizes the whole system before they give it to us. It is more complex than just buying a standard line.”

A European company took 10 months to assemble and integrate the components, after which in-house technicians in Flowery Branch installed some final elements. Saha declined to identify the specific brands it includes.

Saha’s innovative approach is synonymous with the company’s corporate culture. Inventive ideas like these have translated into unique recovery advantages, such as the removal of paint, moisture, foam and cross-linked agents. The new recycling and compounding system mostly processes PP and PE but can also handle ABS and PC.

The system reduces complete plastic scrap at one end and delivers a fully compounded product at the other. It can remove high levels of contamination such as paper, paint, ink, moisture and other volatile materials. “A special filtration system along with directly supportive auxiliary equipment added about $1 million to the cost of the line, and is a critical feature,” Saha says.

“The compounding end of the system includes five variable dosing units for integrating additives into the custom compounded material,” he adds. Kal-Polymers' most commonly compounded material is PP, which they produce in natural, white, gray and black colors.

The Flowery Branch plant has 26 employees, compared with 100 in Mississauga, where they achieved ISO 9001 certification in 2015 and entered the food-grade industry in 2019. Kal-Polymers has also invested in seven full-time employees solely dedicated to research and development at the Mississauga facility.

Kal-Polymers has turned Flowery Branch into a purely production facility by integrating it into the company’s Epicor ERP system. “We have machines and people there,” Saha says. “From Mississauga we provide information, materials, accounting and administrative support. When someone in Georgia touches a box and scans it, the information comes here to Mississauga. They are focusing just on production.”

The system has worked particularly well during the past year when travel from Canada was severely limited. “Through COVID-19, the company has thrived and emerged as one of the leading players in the North American plastics recycling industry,” Saha says.

The plant operates 24 hours a day, five days per week. It sources materials through long-term scrap management partnerships and provides custom compounded resin to automotive, consumer brands, construction, packaging and a variety of Fortune 500 firms. Saha says Kal-Polymers partners with customers to support their sustainability goals and help them further integrate recycled materials into their manufacturing processes.

Kal-Polymers also provides toll reprocessing services, through which they can maintain food contact approval, to complete the closed-loop systems consistent with the circular economy.

Much of the raw material comes from packaging, carpet and automotive manufacturers in the region. Demand is currently strong for recycled resin, and Saha says his company’s total capacity is sold out; however, as KP is in a perpetual state of expansion, he is always talking to new customers for ongoing business.

Another line will likely be added to the Georgia plant in the near future. “We need to do it,” Saha says. “There is plenty of room and the necessary electrical capacity to expand production there.”

“When we talk to large corporations like Procter & Gamble Co. or Coca-Cola, they want recycled material in large volumes and they want consistent support,” Saha says. “With recycled material availability being limited by nature, there are not too many companies of our size in the industry. As a result, we have been fortunate over the years as it has become more of a pull for us than a push.”

Kal-Polymers, founded by Saha in 1992 as a trading company, has only processed post-industrial waste thus far. That may change. He says his research and development team is working on two projects to reprocess post-consumer resin (PCR) waste. These will likely come to fruition at the Flowery Branch plant.

“We have found a supply of fairly consistent post-consumer material that we can handle,” Saha says. “We think we can process about 4 million to 5 million pounds of PCR per year. We have the ability.”

He says some additional downstream equipment is needed to process PCR. That equipment is not expected to be installed until next year.

Is Kal-Polymers looking at additional acquisitions? “We have been working on a few ideas but nothing concrete right now,” Saha explains.

Saha, 67, says he has never been content with the status quo. “Challenges create opportunities,” he professes. “Embracing uncertainty will continue to lead Kal-Polymers forward through the post-pandemic era into the evolving circular economy.”

The author is editor of Plastics Machinery & Manufacturing and can be reached at [email protected]

For more information:

Kal-Polymers in Mississauga, 905-273-7400, www.kalpolymers.com

Kal-Polymers in Flowery Branch, 770-965-8970

About the Author

Ron Shinn | Editor

Editor Ron Shinn is a co-founder of Plastics Machinery & Manufacturing and has been covering the plastics industry for more than 35 years. He leads the editorial team, directs coverage and sets the editorial calendar. He also writes features, including the Talking Points column and On the Factory Floor, and covers recycling and sustainability for PMM and Plastics Recycling.