VALPARAISO | Pratt Industries started production at its new $260 million recycled paper mill, which represents the single largest private sector investment in Valparaiso history.

Pratt estimates the 100 percent recycled paper mill will increase the Australian company's gross annual revenue to nearly $2.5 billion, up from $2.1 billion. The company, currently the fifth-largest corrugated packaging company in the United States, expects the plant will pull in another $70 million a year in Earnings before Interest, Taxes, Depreciation and Amortization, or EBITDA, a key measure of profitability.

"This is a great day for Pratt Industries," Chairman Anthony Pratt said. "This mill represents the single biggest investment we've ever made in the U.S and will generate more than $70 million EBITDA a year."

The company hired 120 workers to staff the new 250,000-square-foot plant next to its existing 500,000-square-foot box plant on Ind. 49. Pratt said it will make 370,000 tons of recycled paper a year, or twice as much as competitor mills, making it the most efficient facility in the industry. 

The mill will recycle paper from cities throughout the Midwest, especially Chicago, one of the world's biggest box markets. It will supply Pratt's existing box plant in Valpo and other box-making sites with recycled paper. Pratt provides recycled packaging to industry heavyweights such as Proctor and Gamble, Home Depot, Crown Royal, Guinness, Unilever and U.S. Postal Service.

When running at capacity, the mill will save 20,000 trees a year and use less water, electricity and natural gas than its three sister mills in Georgia, Louisiana and New York. Pratt estimates it will keep 3,500 cubic yards of paper from ending up in landfills and prevent 700,000 gross tons of carbon emissions.

"It is the world's most environmentally friendly paper mill and a showcase for the latest in 21st century paper-making technology," Pratt said.

"That's important not only for our environment but also for our customers who realize the importance of sustainable packaging. Our environmental message is clearly resonating throughout the country, which is why our sales and profits continue to hit record levels."

Pratt, whose U.S. operations are based in Georgia, has invested more than $400 million in the United States in recent years. In July, the company just opened a new recycling center in Gary in July that pulls in books, phone books and other paperwork from a 100-mile radius.

"This puts us in a very strong position to exceed our medium range target of $3.5 billion in sales ahead of schedule," Pratt said.

Pratt has built three of the last four paper mills in the United States, and its new Valpo plant will serve the company's fast-growing operations in the Midwest. Pratt said manufacturing is booming in the Midwest because of low energy costs that are bringing jobs back from China.

"We're riding that wave," he said.

Pratt also plans to open a new $50 million corrugated box plant in Wisconsin soon.

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Joseph S. Pete is a Lisagor Award-winning business reporter who covers steel, industry, unions, the ports, retail, banking and more. The Indiana University grad has been with The Times since 2013 and blogs about craft beer, culture and the military.