Cope Plastics' green program increases profits, recognition

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Cope Plastics Inc. Cope Plastics Inc. installed a solar array on its roof in 2012 to produce power to run the recycling operation.

Cope Plastics Inc. finds recycling is not only good for the environment, it is profitable too.

The plastics shapes distributor and fabricator has been recycling its in-house scrap for several years and last year added customers’ scrap to its recycling stream.

“Recycling is a stand-alone activity that funds itself and generates profit for the company,” said Cope environment manager Andy Fergurson in a phone interview.

Cope annually recycles about 1.5 million pounds of plastics it generates in its Alton, Ill., headquarters and 16 other locations in the United States. Last year it convinced customers to start sending trimmings and other scrap to Cope for recycling. In the first year of the customer outreach program, it took in 300,000 pounds of customers’ waste and already equaled that volume in the first four months of 2014, Fergurson calculated.

“We make a significant effort to find smaller companies that don’t generate enough scrap for their own in-house recycling programs,” Fergurson said. “We try to be a one-stop shop.”

Cope separates the scrap and ships it to companies that offer the best price. These firms grind and reprocess the scrap for other end-uses. In some cases, Cope returns the scrap to its original plastic suppliers for their in-house recycling programs. Roechling Engineering Plastics, for example, takes back ultrahigh molecular weight high density polyethylene scrap generated when Cope fabricates parts from Roechling’s UHMWHDPE shapes.

Fergurson said Cope has created five new jobs in the past few years to run its recycling activities.

Cope takes its recycling program further than most. In 2012 it installed a solar array on its Alton rooftop to produce electricity to power the 15,000-square-foot recycling operation.

Cope also runs a mixed material recycling program for plastics, cans and paper supplied by its employees. Many on staff live in rural areas lacking recycling infrastructure so their employer helps them be part of the recycling movement. Cope diverts the consumer waste to municipal programs.

“We want to give employees the opportunity to be part of the solution,” explained Ferguson.

Cope’s green efforts helped it earn the 2013 Environmental Excellence Award for Best Recycling Program from the International Association of Plastics Distribution. Fergurson has been sharing Cope’s experience and enthusiasm by giving clinics and webinars to encourage other distributors and fabricators to come on board.

“It’s not a competitive advantage, but it’s good practice,” he said.

Cope Plastics Inc. Cope Plastics President and CEO Jane Saale.

Cope’s sense of corporate responsibility and stewardship starts at the top.

“That’s the way I was raised, always doing things for others” said Cope President and CEO Jane Saale in a phone interview. “Giving back is key.”

Saale began heading Cope in 2004, 17 years after she started with the company as an outside sales representative. She is the granddaughter of Dwight and Mozelle Cope, who founded the firm more than 60 years ago.

Saale said she and her colleagues “locked ourselves in a room and worked on reshaping the organization.”

“We came up with a new culture,” Saale recalled.

Cope set up a reimbursement program for employees who further their education. The company works with local colleges and high schools to help shape curricula. Saale serves on the board of Lewis & Clark Community College.

Cope is 80 percent women owned. Saale has shared her experience with other women entrepreneurs through networking and mentoring. In 2006 she was named Most Influential Business Woman for the St. Louis area by the St. Louis Business Journal. Alton is about 20 miles from St. Louis.

Saale served as president of the International Association of Plastics Distribution in 2012-13, the first woman president in the Rosemont, Ill., association’s 56-year history. Her grandfather Dwight Cope was IAPD’s president from 1965-66 and is remembered with a memorial fund supporting scholarships to undergraduate students.