FORT MILL — Old water bottle may be sitting on a palette off Pleasant Road, or an Australia-bound shipping lane for cotton ginning season.
Or, it’s bundling newspapers together or measuring out brick or wood. At least what’s left of it.
Samuel Strapping Systems opened a Fort Mill plant in 1996. The maker of polyester strapping now has about 90 employees. Samuel Strapping takes water, soda or other bottles in pellet or flake form and turns them into bundling material.
“It’s doing something that’s uniting,” plastics operations manager Rick Dean said of the company’s four main products and 300 or so applications of it. “It’s holding something together.”
The Fort Mill plant makes strapping for bottles and cans, brick or lumber. About a fifth of the 50 million pounds of material it brings in a year comes out as binding for cotton – 27,000 coils to Australia and 30,000 to Texas, Louisiana and other domestic sites annually.
To the company, going green isn’t just philosophical. It’s the only way to stay in business.
“To be competitive in this industry, you have to,” Dean said.
When the plant opened, it ran two lines in a 100,000-square-foot facility. It ran 80 percent virgin material and 20 percent recycled.
“Today we’re running 100 percent recycled materials,” Dean said.
In 2009, the company used about 80 percent recycled material. That year, leadership invested $1.5 million in an optical sorter to weed out flecks of plastic that aren’t usable. Now the company brings in recycled material from around the world.
Employment has doubled the past 10 years. What was two lines is now four, soon to be five. The 100,000 square feet is now the entire 230,000-square foot building.
October through December, Fort Mill’s solid waste department collected just less than 138 tons of recyclables. That number isn’t strictly bottles, but it also doesn’t include unincorporated areas that use county convenience centers, Tega Cay or anywhere else outside of town limits.
“These are numbers that reflect all co-mingled recyclables,” said Justin Krueger, Fort Mill assistant public works director.
According to the Environmental Protection Agency, the United States generated 32 million tons of plastic waste in 2011. Only 8 percent of that material was recovered for recycling. Dean would like to see more bottles recycled, which would give him more options for purchasing the material that keeps his plant going.
He’ll drink to going green – as long as that drink comes in a bottle.
John Marks • 803-547-2353