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Pratt Industries takes the old and makes it new again

Staff Photo: Sue Ann Kuhn-Smith An employee at Pratt Industries in Conyers moves sheets of corrugated paper along a conveyor. The sheets are either shipped to Pratt's other box plants around the country or they are manufactured on site into boxes based on customer specifications.

Staff Photo: Sue Ann Kuhn-Smith An employee at Pratt Industries in Conyers moves sheets of corrugated paper along a conveyor. The sheets are either shipped to Pratt's other box plants around the country or they are manufactured on site into boxes based on customer specifications.

At A Glance

Quick facts about Pratt Industries:

-- Conyers is home to Pratt's North American corporate headquarters

-- Sixth largest corrugated packaging company in U.S.

-- Employs 4,800 employees nationally with approximately 800 employed in Conyers

-- An annual local payroll of $40 million

-- Pays more than $2 million in local taxes annually, making it Rockdale County's largest taxpayer

Source: Pratt Industries Inc.

CONYERS -- After you've finished your pizza at home and discarded the box, what happens next? If it's thrown in the recycling bin, it is very likely you will see that box again -- perhaps in another form -- after it has gone through an extensive recycling process at Pratt Industries in Conyers.

Pratt Industries, which was founded in Australia, entered the U.S. market in 1988 when it located its headquarters in Conyers.

According to the company's website, Pratt Industries is the sixth largest paper and packaging company in the U.S., and has locations throughout the country.

The Pratt Industries campus, which is more than a mile in circumference, is located between Sarasota Business Parkway and Sigman Road.

Full-cycle recycling operations take place in Pratt's large facility on Sarasota Business Parkway. A company brochure boasts that it is the "only company in the world bringing the corrugated process full circle, under one roof." Pratt currently recycles around 1.8 million tons of waste paper each year.

The boxes manufactured at Pratt are used by a wide variety of retailers and other businesses. For example, Pratt makes boxes for pizza restaurants, computer retailers, grocery stores, The Home Depot, Lithonia Lighting and Procter & Gamble products.

Pratt also makes corrugated displays for companies such as L'Oreal makeup and Clorox Wipes.

The process begins when materials discarded for recycling -- such as used boxes, newspapers, and other paper products -- are brought into the plant from the waste yard and deposited into a 30-ton pulper, which operates much like a cocktail blender on a much larger scale, mixing water into paper.

This process breaks down the paper into pulp. The pulp goes through a series of cleaning and screening systems to filter out rejected materials like plastic bags or other items that were discarded with the paper.

"By the time it goes to the paper machine, it's fiber and all the contaminants have been taken out," said Michael O'Regan, public relations director with Pratt Industries (USA).

The paper machine, which is a relatively diminutive name for a massive piece of equipment, filters the water out of the pulp, which is then dried, starched and flattened into large sheets of brown paper.

"It's pretty simple, really," O'Regan said. "Making paper is adding water in and taking water out."

The newly manufactured paper is then put through a machine that winds it into large rolls, which can weigh as much as 25,000 pounds. These rolls are cut and stored in the warehouse, located between the paper mill and the corrugating plant.

Pratt is an active advocate for recycling, and it practices what it preaches. The paper mill is fueled in part by a gasifier in an adjoining clean energy plant that converts rejected materials from the paper manufacturing process and other items that would normally take up space in a landfill into energy. The company uses about 250,000 tons of non-recyclable plastics, wood waste, carpeting and other materials to feed the clean energy plant.

Terry Taschwer, commercial manager for Pratt Industries, estimated the gasifier has helped Pratt reduce its use of natural gas by approximately 150,000 decatherms a month.

Reels of paper to be manufactured into cardboard boxes are then placed in the corrugator, which is longer than a football field and can run as fast as 1,100 feet a minute, Taschwer said.

The corrugator uses three rolls of recycled paper to make one sheet of corrugated paper that consists of a top and bottom liner and the middle fluted layer called the "medium."

O'Regan said those sheets are either shipped to Pratt's other box plants around the country or they are manufactured on site into boxes based on customer specifications.

The sheets are fun through a folder, glued and printed.

"Then it comes off as a corrugated box to hold your computer or pizza," O'Regan said. "Hopefully when you're done, it will come back to us and we will recycle it again."