The Mexican who built the most important recycling plant in the world

His name is Jaime Cámara and in his plant, he recycles, every year, the equivalent of filling the Azteca Stadium 2.4 times. Learn about the history of this Mexican who saw PET recycling as an opportunity to start.

At the beginning of 1994, imports into Mexico flourished thanks to the recently signed North American Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA). The engineer Jaime Camara Creixell seized the opportunity from his own importing company. However, the taste lasted little, since the economic crisis that broke out at the end of that year led him to close his business.

The industrial engineer from the Anahuac University knew that not everything had gone to the garbage for his team. Jaime had heard about a recycling boom that was about to explode in developed countries and decided that his team would change the department stores and go to the garbage dumps.

At that time, the PET was replacing other products in the subject of packaging,and being a product derived from polyester, it was very important as a raw material in the production of some garments.

By requiring raw materials for clothes, a shortage of polyester fiber was created.

“There was a boom to recycle PET and make textile fibers,” Jaime Cámara says in an interview.

The United States was the leader in the recycling market and China was just beginning with the PET business, while Mexico seemed to have no hope.

For 1996, the engineering company Cámara was the largest post-consumer plastics collector in Latin America, whose material they exported completely.

Photo: Courtesy ECOCE.

This was the start of the development of an infrastructure to be able to serve the pepenadores. “We became the bridge of the informality of the pepenadores to the formality of this great recycling industry in the United States. That bridge understood the two parts of the formulas, “says today the CEO of PetStar, the company that has the largest food grade PET recycling plant in the world, which is located in Toluca, State of Mexico.

When using recycled PET resin, 87% of the emissions are reduced against virgin resin, while the PetStar production is equivalent to removing all cars from Mexico City for two days.

The consumption of products is constant in the country and garbage is also multiplied by cities. Each Mexican produces an average of 311 kilograms of Urban Solid Waste(RSU) per year, of which only 39.7 percent are likely to be used, according to the National Institute of Statistics and Geography (Inegi).

And although these figures seem positive, the outlook is darkened for the recycling of materials such as plastic. The drop in oil prices is a disincentive for companies, since it is cheaper to acquire a virgin and non-recycled product.

On September 19, the Mexican Export Mix was at 37.07 dollars, while at the same time in 2011 it was at 103.64 dollars, which represents a drop of more than 179.57 percent in the price of oil.

This is the story of the Mexican who created the most important plastic recycling plant on the planet.

The realm of PET

“There was no recycling infrastructure in Mexico and what we were doing was supplying the international market, mainly the United States,” says Jaime Cámara.

What happened in the nineties is that the polyester business for textiles moved from the United States to China and it became a very speculative market.

“The Chinese market is very volatile, a lot of speculation and that made it very difficult to have the infrastructure to offer the development to the pepenadores”, says Cámara.

Volatility began to be reflected in prices, and that made the operation of stockpiling practically untenable to only supply industries abroad.

In 2000, Cámara Creixell and its team began to analyze what could be done with the storage infrastructure they had, and that is how the engineer met some European companies and the prosibility of obtaining technologies approved by the Food and Drug Administration ( FDA) to return the material of the bottle to the food and beverage industry.

“It was fascinating and it really was not done,” recalls the PetStar director.

In 2006, the engineer formed PetStar and avoided competing with China to offer the PET market for the textile industry, preferring to offer a plan for bottling companies to recycle their bottles and return them to the market.

The project started with a partnership with a company from Monterrey that provided the capital to start the operation and, in return, the engineer offered the collection infrastructure.

Promotora Ambiental (PASA) became the majority shareholder in the process, while the group of investors represented by the engineer became a minority shareholder.

Enrique Peña Nieto, then governor of the State of Mexico, was the one who inaugurated the first phase of the plant in April 2009, when PetStar began supplying the resin to the Mexican refreshing industry.

In 2010, Arca Continental joined the customer base in an incipient way, since it was a small volume that they had available, and it was in the middle of that year that the majority shareholders decided to sell the company.

“I took care of making a contest and we got enough interested in acquiring the plant, and finally in October 2011, Arca Continental wins the contest and makes the total purchase of the company with all the infrastructure of recycling and storage,” says Camera Creixell

The new company decided to keep the engineer in charge of the recycling company, and would not regret doing so.

A giant in Mexico

The plant was expanded to meet the demand of the Coca-Cola system and an additional investment was made, which is why Arca Continental invited the rest of the Coca-Cola System to participate as shareholders.

Coca Cola de México , Arca Continental and five other bottlers join the recycling adventure: Peninsular Drinks (Bepensa), Corporación del Fuerte, Corporación Rica, Grupo Embotellador Mayab and Embotelladora de Colima.

The investment doubled capacity, and in July 2014 the plant was reopened, becoming the largest food-grade PET recycler in the world. A giant that operates from Mexico.

PetStar recycles the equivalent of filling the Azteca Stadium 2.4 times a year , that is, 50,000 tons of plastic.

The company managed to add value to the raw material and convert it into a recycled product ready for use by the soft drink industry.

“At the end of the day, natural resources are being sold with very little added value and, on the other hand, if this product stays in Mexico, obviously that added value stays in the country,” says the engineer.

At present, 1,000 people are employed in the plant, in addition to 25,000 indirect employees, such as the pepenadores nationwide.

Today, PET recycling is an opportunity and a challenge at the same time says the engineer.

In Mexico, there are more than 120 million inhabitants who have raised their life rate to 74.5 years, while in the last six decades the population quadrupled and the average age of people ranges between 23 and 29 years, a trend that will raise the consumption of products and the generation of waste.

Mexico is the main consumer of bottled water worldwide, with a consumption of 28,453 liters each year, according to Kantar World Panel , and the fourth place in the consumption of carbonated beverages, such as soft drinks, with a consumption of 137 liters per year per person, according to a study by the consultancy Euromonitor International. These two drinks use PET containers, which shows the importance of recycling.

In the country, 700 tons of virgin PET are consumed. Although Mexico has established itself as the leader in America in the recycling of plastic (50.4% recycled), position that places it above the United States in the recycling of PET (31%), according to data from the civil association ECOCE.

In the country, 15 companies recycle PET, with a capacity to recycle 300,000 tons per year , which requires an investment of 314 million dollars per year. About 50% of recycled PET is food grade, according to the association.

“These are not easy times for the recycling industry. And at this moment, I value the commitment of our shareholder much more, because it shows that he is here for a long-term conviction, “says Cámara Creixell.

The prices of oil are a juncture that squeezes the profits of the recycler, but that does not depress Camaix Creixell’s dreams of replicating the business model in other latitudes of Latin America and even opening a plant when the time comes.

The future is the circular economies. The consumer must empty the bottle, crush it, cover it and deposit it in a trash can. “Those simple actions already have an environmental impact,” explains the CEO of PetStar.

The crisis of 1994 once took away his company and Jaime Cámara started a garbage business at a time when nobody believed in recycling in the country. Today, he is not afraid of the new turbulence in the market.

Recycling “sounded like crazy at that time, but time has given us reason and today has become something that is a global trend, and now Mexico is a leader in this area.”

Source: Entrepreneur, Altonivel

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