Ground Zero: The view from Hilex Poly, world's largest closed-loop bag recycler

February 07, 2013

North Vernon, IN—Mark Daniels comments on the current job market as he holds a handful of pellets with hints of a gray tone.

Oftentimes when there is talk about plastic bags it's about the product itself, but Daniels, VP of sustainability and environmental policy for bag maker and recycler Hilex Poly , believes above anything else, it's a story about people.

"One of the most important things to point out is that we help create jobs for the industry," he said. "When we look at bag bans, it could potentially eliminate bag manufacturing jobs, which includes jobs that were created due to our recycling plant."

Hilex employs slightly more 1200 people nationwide, with about 200 at the North Vernon bag plant and 75 at its recycling plant.

A bit of history
Hilex Poly is a manufacturer of plastic bag and film, focusing primarily on HDPE film products. A U.S.-based company, Hilex has headquarters in Hartsville, SC and nine manufacturing facilities, including what it calls the world's largest closed-loop plastic bag recycling plant.

The company's plastic bag history starts in 1980 when Sonoco Products Co. entered the plastic bag business with one product offering, a white film, t-shirt style bag printed in one or two colors. The original plant, located in Onset, MA consisted of just three, two-lane bag lines. At the time, HDPE resin was imported from Germany. A second plant was added in Santa Maria, CA in 1983.

Sonoco's high-density film products division expanded when it acquired Hilex Poly in 1989. In 2003, Hilex reentered the plastic bag and film business with the purchase of Sonoco's high-density film division. In the fall of 2005, Hilex acquired Vanguard Plastics, Inc. creating the largest retail carryout packaging manufacturer in the world.

Hilex has helped advance the plastic bag industry in several ways, including becoming the world's largest producer of plastic T-shirt bags, which is currently the most popular model among retailers. The company's patented QuikMate EZ bags are used in a wide range of bagging operations, from scan and bag, to bag well, to self packing stations and everywhere in between. These engineered t-shirt bags feature integrated tabs with a patented "easy-to-open design" that helps reduce tab waste at the checkout.

The company has created several innovations in the plastic bag industry, but perhaps its 'crown jewel' product is not a pristine white plastic bag, but one that comes in gray.

Most plastic shopping bags that are white in color are made with virgin material, but when the shopping bags are produced with partially recycled resin recovered from used plastic bags, the bags oftentimes take on gray, tan, or even bluish tones.

While it's debatable when the plastic bag ban brouhaha truly began, Hilex, fully aware of the reusability and recyclability of its products, decided it was up to it to establish an industry setting standard for recycling.  

In 2005, Hilex invested more than $20 million to establish the first bag-to-bag recycling facility in North America.

"We made the decision to invest heavily in the recycling infrastructure and it's paid off," Daniels

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