Building material firm ReWall eyeing Vancouver

Products made from recycled beverage, food cartons

By Gordon Oliver, Columbian business editor

Published:

 

An Iowa-based company that creates building materials from recycled food and beverage cartons is considering locating a manufacturing plant in Vancouver, in part to be close to a steady source of raw materials from Tetra Pak, a food carton manufacturer operating in the city’s Fruit Valley area.

David Phillips, chief executive officer of The ReWall Company, based in Des Moines, said his company is talking with local officials and recyclers about a Vancouver- or Portland-area location as part of the company’s planned nationwide expansion. ReWall envisions a 20,000 to 30,000 square-foot plant with about 15 employees, possibly opening by late summer, he said.

“We like the Vancouver area,” he said. “We think it would be ideal.”

The key issue for the company, he said, is whether Tetra Pak and other manufacturers and recyclers can provide an adequate supply of raw materials to meet ReWall’s manufacturing needs. Phillips says he also sees a potential supply source in Pacific Natural Foods of Tualatin, Ore., a large supplier of soups and other food products processed and boxed in aseptic packaging that does not require refrigeration. Although aseptic packaging boxes have a foil coating, they can be recycled together with other coated cartons.

Challenges discussed

ReWall is also in discussions with recycling organizations about the logistical and financial challenges of separating cartons from other paper-based waste in the residential recycling stream, Phillips said. Without separation, paper is separated from coatings and inks and recycled into tissue paper or other low-grade paper products while the coatings often are sent to landfills.

ReWall is gaining national attention with its products. Using a technology well-established in Europe, the company produces boards, sheathing and ceiling panels that make full use of recycled polyethylene-coated cartons and production waste materials. It recently opened its first manufacturing site in Des Moines, Iowa.

The city of Vancouver and the Columbia River Economic Development Council are in discussions with ReWall, said Bonnie Moore, director of business services at CREDC. Economic development officials are looking

into incentives to assist the company if it decides conditions are right for a plant in Vancouver, Moore said.

Tetra Pak, based in Europe, locally manufactures “gable-top” cartons used for milk and other refrigerated products, generating waste as part of its production process that now is recycled into tissue paper.

“ReWall has an interesting idea of making new products made from our recyclable material,” said Robert Baker, manager of the Vancouver Tetra Pak plant. “The concept has the ability to be quite big some day.”

Regions competing

Tetra Pak is a leader in an industry group called the Carton Council, which promotes carton recycling and assists communities and recyclers in separating cartons from other recyclable paper products. Jeff Epstein, a Portland-area resident who is the council’s West Coast coordinator, is assisting ReWall in its discussions about locating a plant in Vancouver. Other regions also are competing for the next ReWall facility, he said.

“They have options” Epstein said of the company. “They’ve made clear that they want a West Coast facility, ideally in the Northwest. The question is when the right pieces of the puzzle come together.”

The Carton Council offers encouragement and incentives for recycling operators to sort cartons from other paper products. That separation already takes place in Clark County, said Josy Wright, manager of waste reduction education for Waste Connections, but separation is not common in the greater Portland region, according to Epstein.

The Carton Council and Tetra Pak hope to change that, said Elisabeth Comere, Tetra Pak’s environment and government affairs director, in a written statement to The Columbian.

“Our goal is to enable the cartons we manufacture to be recycled in every market after use,” she said. ReWall’s technology, she added, offers “a smart and efficient way to transform post-consumer cartons and carton scrap into useful, ecological building materials.”