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Published April 17, 2010, 04:15 PM

Moorhead plant produces 250 million egg cartons a year

This year, 15,000 tons of recycled newspaper will be converted into 250 million egg cartons at the Pactiv Corp. production plant in south Moorhead.

By: Craig McEwan, The Forum

What you are now reading may soon become an egg carton.

This year, 15,000 tons of recycled newspaper will be converted into 250 million egg cartons at the Pactiv Corp. production plant in south Moorhead.

“The wastepaper markets are a big deal to us,” said Jon Nelson, plant manager, surrounded by huge bundles of recycled newspapers.

Much of the byproduct comes from curbside collection programs in metropolitan Fargo-Moorhead, Nelson said.

“We also get wastepaper from about a 100-mile radius of the plant,” he said.

Scrap paper mixed in a huge water-filled vat becomes liquid gray pulp.

The pulp is fed into a molding machine and exits as a pliable egg carton before entering a 160-foot-long, natural-gas-fired drying oven.

From there, the cartons travel across the plant on multiple conveyors – resembling a mini-freeway system – to printers that attach company logos representing Pactiv customers.

“That’s one area of the business I like. It completes the loop of recycling,” said Nelson, a Duluth, Minn., native who previously worked for a Minneapolis paper mill. He has worked for Pactiv for 13 years.

The company’s 145 employees work around the clock, 363 days per year, Nelson said.

“We have four crews split between two 12-hour shifts,” he said. Crews work three and a half days on and three and a half days off per week, with every other weekend off.

“Our starting pay is $10.72 per hour. We offer a full gamut of benefits, full medical, 401(k),” Nelson said.

“Those egg cartons go all over the country,” said Matt Gonring, vice president of media relations for Pactiv Corp., which is based in Lake Forest, Ill.

The local plant was built in 1993 as the former Envirosys egg carton production plant.

The city of Moorhead loaned Envirosys $13.6 million to build the plant, which folded after 17 months. The city seized the plant and sold it to Tenneco/Pactiv for $9.5 million in June 1996.

The plant now occupies about seven acres on a

17-acre site at 3010 42nd St. S. in the Moorhead Industrial Park.

It was acquired by Tenneco Packaging/Pactiv in 1996.

Three years later, Pactiv became a standalone company. That same year, the Moorhead plant was expanded, doubling its size from 55,000 square feet to 110,000 square feet, Nelson said.

“We primarily produce egg cartons. That’s our No. 1 product out of here,” he said.

Another 20,000-square-foot expansion is under way at a cost of between $5 million and $8.5 million, Nelson said.

That will enable the plant to produce plates and hinge-lid products made from molded pulp, resulting in hiring 10 to 20 more employees over the next 12 months, Nelson said.

Pactiv, based in Lake Forest, Ill., produces Hefty brand consumer products including waste bags, food storage bags, disposal tableware and cookware.

The food service side of the business produces products for supermarkets, restaurants and food packaging markets.

For example, Starbucks and McDonald’s use Pactiv products. Local grocery stores use its products that range from egg cartons and clamshell packaging for fresh fruits and vegetables to the polystyrene foam containers under meat products, utensils and aluminum ware, Gonring said.

The publicly traded company, listed on the New York Stock Exchange under ticker symbol PTV, did $3.4 billion in sales in 2009, he said.

Pactiv uses commercial trucking companies, some of them local, to ship product across the country, Nelson said.