Recycling and resin buying aren't mere buzz words at Hilex Poly Co. LLC, the bagmaking giant based in Hartsville, S.C.
Hilex Poly has incorporated both of those areas into the company's DNA. We realized we had to change our supply chain to reduce, reuse and recycle, supply management Vice President Derek Gowdy said at the CMAI World Petrochemical Conference, held March 25-26 in Houston.
With nine U.S. plants, Hilex Poly claims to be the world's largest maker and recycler of T-shirt bags made of high density polyethylene. The firm has operated a major recycling center in North Vernon, Ind., since 1994 and earlier this year commercialized its E3-brand reusable shopping bag, which primarily is made from polypropylene fiber.
The bag is our way of acknowledging that some consumers prefer that product, Gowdy said. It can minimize space and check out time, and it fits current dispenser racks.
Hilex Poly also remains active with its Bag 2 Bag recycling effort, a 15-year-old program in which the firm places recycling bins at its customers' facilities. Its Gray is the New Green slogan also is being used to promote bags that are gray in color because they have at least 25 percent recycled content.
Gowdy stressed that in-house recycling isn't something you do on a whim. You have to make a commitment to put capital dollars to the solution.
Battling proposed bans of plastic bags also has been on Hilex Poly's agenda in recent years. Gowdy said 80 pieces of ban legislation now are being considered around the U.S., but that number is down from 147 a year ago.
It goes beyond just trying to fight something; we're educating customers and consumers and trying to clarify misinformation about plastic bags, he added.
With that goal in mind, Hilex Poly has launched a Web site, plasticbaglegislation.com, full of data about proposed bag bans.
In addition to its environmental benefits, recycling has been a moneymaker for the company, Gowdy said.
We can put [recycled material] back into our product for cheaper than virgin resin, he added. When we started recycling, we thought that if we could break even, we'd be OK.
Effective resin buying is vital to Hilex Poly, since high resin prices were one of several factors that pushed the firm into Chapter 11 bankruptcy protection for a two-month period in mid-2008. The firm now is sourcing more resin from the international market. The amount of international resin Hilex buys varies from month to month, Gowdy said, but it can be as high as 10-15 percent.
We used to be able to go to Houston and meet with a majority of our [resin] supply base in two days, Gowdy said. Now we need passports and visas in hand. In 2007 and 2008, Gowdy said he visited 25 resin suppliers in eight countries.
Buying from abroad can present some major logistical complications, including sourcing resin in the 55-pound bags used outside of the U.S. market, which remains rail car-driven.
Before, we could just plan for hundreds of rail cars, Gowdy said. Now in some cases we're getting resin from truck to ship to truck to ship to truck.
Gowdy believes that, in the long term, U.S. plastic film makers will be able to compete because of the region's competitive rates on electricity and freight.
We're cost-effective at moving materials and changing their form, he said. We don't come to work with our heads low in shame. We don't think the fall of civilization will come about because of abuse of a T-shirt bag.
Hilex employs more than 1,000 and ranked No. 17 in a recent Plastics News ranking of North American film and sheet makers, with related sales of $504 million.