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Sustainability grabs molder's attention

Tom Duffey, president and co-founder of Plastic Components Inc. (PCI), is hardly a newcomer to processing.But even he admits that he was surprised at the breadth and depth of suggestions his peers shared with him as he prepared for a presentation on ways processors can incorporate sustainable technology into their facilities.

Duffey spoke in late September at the “Sustainability in the Plastics Industry” conference hosted by MPW and its sister publication, Injection Molding Magazine. He and two partners founded PCI in 1989, and the firm has grown from just two to 42 molding machines. In addition, he is president of Mid-America Plastics Partners (MAPP), a processors’ association.

“I’m not an expert on sustainability,” admitted Duffey, so he turned to his fellow MAPP members for their thoughts on the topic. Their responses ran the gamut, with almost all stating they understood the need for sustainable manufacturing as a morally correct way to prevent further deterioration of our environment, but that some were feeling too pinched on the business side to make much progress on ‘green’ issues.

For instance, one unnamed automotive parts processors told Duffey, “On the one hand, customers are trying to beat us into submission [with lower prices for our parts]. On the other hand, they’re trying to raise our sustainability consciousness.” Others noted that there are too many challenges in the current market to devote time and money to sustainability, with Duffey quoting one: “We’re in survival mode, not ‘green’ mode.”

But, he added, many have recognized that sustainability and good business practices often go hand in hand. One MAPP member, York Imperial (York, PA), said it has found a local business willing to take its old hydraulic oil, which it filters and sells as heating oil. Another, custom molder Nicolet Plastics (Nicolet, WI), claims it saved more than 140,000 lb of plastics last year by improving its reclaim/regrind operations. Others pointed to investments in improved HVAC (heating/ventilation/air conditioning) units as money well spent. “Sustainability and profitability need not be mutually exclusive,” noted Duffey. His own company has not yet measured the benefits of its own efforts, which include reuse of processing water to help cool or heat the plant, closed-loop molding with direct integration of sprue grinding/reuse, and motion-sensor office lighting to automatically turn off lights when rooms are empty. He says he is considering adding ‘sustainability’ to the duties of some of the processor’s younger managers, openly acknowledging that the under-35 set was brought up to be more conscious of man’s effects on the environment than was his own baby boomer generation.

One of the most successful efforts Duffey cited was at Dorel Juvenile Group (Foxboro, MA), a manufacturer of child strollers, children’s car seats, and other child protective gear. The firm, with its own captive processing, took photos of its waste as it was trucked away and then unceremoniously dumped in a nearby landfill. The pictures were posted in the company’s facility, with employees asked to help reduce the company’s waste. According to Dorel, it reduced its truckloads of landfilled waste from 204 annually to just one/month. “They’ve found sources who wanted that scrap, and some were willing to pay for it,” noted Duffey, so that the manufacturer’s bottom line also received some support.

Duffey summarized his own insights and MAPP members’ feedback with four suggestions for processors to improve their sustainability as well as their business:
• Don’t preach, act.
• When converting to ‘green’, define the value as more than a financial one.
• Comprehensively market your firm’s sustainable strategy as it could help win customers.
• Share best practices with your peers.

Track waste just as you would machine utilization or input costs, recommended Duffey, and you’ll be able to do right by your company and your environment. Some molders already are doing just that. Another presenter at the conference, Bob McKay, project manager for sustainable polymers at supplier Sabic Innovative Plastics (Pittsfield, MA), pointed to one of his firm’s customers, contract molder Harbec Plastics (Ontario, NY), which, among many efforts to improve its sustainability and meet its goal of being carbon neutral, erected a windmill that, so far, has helped it save or avoid up to $165,000/yr on its energy bill.

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