Office-equipment maker Intek America Inc., which last year launched a program to make some of its paper shredders carbon-neutral, is hoping a partnership with Taiwanese bioplastics compounder Minima Technology Co. Ltd. will help it green its material choices.
Intek, which has manufacturing plants in mainland China and claims a significant share of the U.S. market, started its environmental push more than two years seeking to lighten its eco-footprint and separate itself in the market, said Herman Chang, president and CEO.
The company is based in Rancho Dominguez, Calif., with all of its manufacturing, including injection molding, in Dongguan, China.
Intek's effort is much broader than plastics, but includes taking a serious look at material choices, such as developing shredder bags and other products from bio-based plastics supplied by Minima, and studying using bio-based plastics in components, Chang said.
One of the centerpieces of its plan so far is working with Carbonfund.org, an environmental consulting firm in Silver Spring, Md., to purchase carbon offsets to make more of its shredders carbon neutral, both in the manufacturing processes and in the first three years of normal operation.
Chang said the company's environmental push is costing it money, at least for now.
Buying carbon offsets costs a few dollars for each commercial shredder, out of a price tag of $400 or more. Intek is absorbing the extra costs because the marketplace won't accept higher prices and the company believes in the long run, the initiative will boost business, according to Chang.
Our margins are lower but I believe that once people really [accept] this concept, our volumes will be higher, he said. We still need to be competitive. We cannot increase our costs.
Intek claims it makes the world's first carbon-neutral shredders. It sells its products under the GoEcolife brand at major retailers like Costco and OfficeMax in the U.S.
In plastics, Intek is working with Minima to expand in bioplastics in other areas, selling straws, utensils, beverage cups, trash bags and other products. It plans to unveil those new lines in March at Expo West 2010, a natural products trade fair in Anaheim, Calif., Chang said.
The two companies started working together in mid-2009, and have also been looking at using bio-based plastic in shredder housings and components, said Chien-Ming Huang, general manager of Minima, which is based in Taichung, Taiwan.
Minima compounds polylactic acid resin, makes equipment for processing biopolymers and provides environmental consulting. The company also plans to start a composting facility in Taiwan to further develop the island's biodegradable products industries, Huang said.
Huang said he believes the two companies can overcome technical hurdles such as the poorer fire resistance of some bio-based plastics in electronics housings. But in the meantime, Chang said they are looking at using bioplastics in applications like manual shredders, which do not have electric parts.
Chang said Intek's environmental program took about two years of serious planning before it was unveiled. It has paid off with some side benefits, pushing the company to take out supply chain inefficiency and look deeper at its operations, he said.
For example, it now sources raw materials closer to its factories, reducing energy used in transportation, Chang said: When you do the carbon offset, you go into even more detail.
Intek said it has made a number of other design changes in its shredders, such as having them turn off automatically when not in use to save power, and using 100 percent post-consumer paper pulp or modified PLA wrap for transport packaging.
Chang said Intek plans to keep looking for ways to lower the eco-footprint of its products.
Right now we have green shredders and carbon offsets, he said. But we will not stop there. We will try to make it greener and greener.
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