Thermoformer Dordan Manufacturing Co. Inc. has taken aggressive steps to improve its sustainability position, while resisting pressure from some customers to move toward bio-based materials just for image's sake.
In the last few years, plastic has become the poster child for the waste of the world. Everyone manufacturers, trade associations had a different opinion. At some point, I decided, we really have to learn the truth and really figure out what is going on, President and CEO Daniel Slavin said in an Oct. 31 interview at the Pack Expo trade show in Chicago.
There's a lot of bad information out there. 'Greenwashing' is rampant. What I think is important for all of our industry is to get the facts, he said.
The apple doesn't fall far from the tree at Woodstock, Ill.-based Dordan. Daniel Slavin's daughter, Chandler, began working as a sustainability consultant for the company shortly after graduating from DePaul University in 2009 with a degree in ethics.
She now is Dordan's sustainability coordinator and marketing director. Her responsibilities include working with Houston-based Waste Management Inc., the California Board of Integrated Waste Management and various non-governmental organizations to devise a waste-reduction strategy for thermoformed packaging.
Chandler Slavin writes Dordan's sustainability blog, recyclablepackag ing.org, which discusses the firm's day-to-day attempts to capture scrap and recycle used packaging. She is co-lead of the PET subcommittee for the Material Optimization Committee for Walmart Canada Corp., which is working toward zero waste for post-consumer, bottle-grade and thermoforming-grade PET packaging.
Dordan is a member of the Charlottesville, Va.-based Sustainable Packaging Coalition and uses the group's Compass life-cycle analysis software, which provides industry data for various packaging materials, conversion processes, and end-of-life treatments. Dordan also subscribes to Wal-Mart's packaging reduction scorecard.
At Pack Expo, the Slavins described how they used sustainability software to help one of their customers, a large producer of portable GPS units, transform packaging from a thermoformed tray inside a paperboard box to a thermoformed clamshell.
This was an interesting case study in terms of packaging reduction: When we ran the metrics, it had a higher aquatic toxicity because of the paperboard box. Having that data allows us to justify why [consumer-product manufacturers] should use clamshell packages, Chandler Slavin said.
She also has studied the action plan for Extended Producer Responsibility schemes adopted by some European Union members and all 10 Canadian provinces. EPRs hold manufacturers responsible for their products through all stages of their life cycles.
The U.S. has not adopted an all-encompassing EPR plan, but Daniel Slavin said Dordan has committed itself to being at the forefront of blister and clamshell recycling in America.
What happens is that, ultimately, these things boil down to economics, he said. At some point in time, the sustainable initiative and the economic initiative have to come together.
No one is going to pay a premium for something that is half as good. We have to find ways to maintain the feedstocks. It's working with bottles, with [high density polyethylene], with all sorts of different items. We just need to find a way to recover our [thermoformed] material.
Some consumer-product manufacturers have begun pressing their suppliers to adopt bio-based resins for their packaging, Dordan's booth at Pack Expo featured a display of bioresins and data that showed polylactic acid, most starch-based resins and polyhydroxyalkanoates as having low deformation temperatures and high cost compared with traditional PET, PVC, high-impact polystyrene and HDPE.
Our thing with the bioresins is simply, when customers are asking questions, they need to understand that this maybe isn't the way to go. It may be, down the road, Daniel Slavin said. Currently, he said, Dordan is considering how to create bale specifications that would allow thermoformed products to be included in the recycling infrastructure.
Meantime, Dordan is taking steps to cut its energy use and to meet Daniel Slavin's goal of having zero waste at the 75,000-square-foot Woodstock plant.
This fall, Dordan installed its first on-site composting system to process food and yard waste. The company also donated part of its land to a local organic farmer who supplies area farm markets and restaurants. Chandler Slavin also has worked with Woodstock Public Schools on educating students about recycling.
Dordan was started by Edwin Slavin in 1961 as a contract packager that also offered skin packaging. By the early 1970s Dordan had exited those markets and started thermoforming. The firm makes clamshells, blisters, bi-folds and trays.
The company had 2009 sales of $20 million, when it ranked No. 53 among North American thermoformers, according to Plastics News' industry survey.