Decision to invest in Canada versus China pays off in efficiencies
Mark Lichtblau wasn’t always so sure about building a plastics manufacturing plant in Ontario.
“We were torn between making an investment in Canada or making an investment offshore,” said Lichtblau, vice-president of Haremar Plastic Manufacturing Ltd., during a presentation at the recent Carbon Economy Summit in Toronto.
Lichtblau visited several facilities in China before deciding to set up shop in North Toronto.
The location made sense, he said, pointing to Canada’s skilled labour force, raw materials supply, and huge technology hub for polyethelene extrusion machinery in the Greater Toronto Area.
The site had another benefit. Logistically, it helped Haremar establish one of the most efficient plastics manufacturing facilities in North America.
Haremar started by consolidating its three other North Toronto facilities into one, reducing inter-location shipping by 1,000 trucks annually.
It built the new facility next to rail access, allowing it to switch from bulk hopper trucks to rail—saving 500,000 pounds of corrugated boxes and wooden pallets a year.
The company also reduced packaging by replacing its standard box flaps with econo flaps. It meant investing in new quick change equipment, which was a challenge at first.
“In the past few years, our budget was being pulled in many different directions so we were actually unable to buy all the machines we wanted,” Lichtblau said.
Haremar took things slow, buying one machine a year until it had the necessary equipment for quick-changeovers.
It switched from wrapping garbage bags in single folders to rolls, which use 15 per cent less packaging and require less corrugation.
Some of the company’s innovations started with a simple suggestion from an employee, such as changing from paper to aluminum cores for rolling film, eliminating approximately 1,000 pounds of paper cores, and associated disposal costs.
In a trial project, Haremar went even further and removed the inner core from an industrial roll of film, cutting out core-form operation and reducing the client’s packaging by 21 megatons.
“It was astronomical. We thought if we could roll this out to other customers, it would have the same impact, 50 fold,” Lichtblau said.
Haremar saw potential to improve not only the efficiency of its packaging, but its products as well. The company is developing renewable resource content resins, a blend of polyethelene resins from oil and crops.
It also started producing wet waste compostable bags and moved its way up to become the leading manufacturer of the product.
Lichtblau admits they weren’t the first ones into the market, but taking that extra time to iron out a final product can work to a company’s advantage.
“It comes down to liability and risk management. Why be first if you’re going to upset the customer?” he asks.
While Haremar’s slow and steady pace has moved it ahead in the sustainability race, not budging at all may have its own risks and liabilities.
“In the past five years, retailers are asking more than just generic questions,” Lichtblau said, adding “they’re looking for metrics, how much waste are you discharging and what reductions have you made.”
Being able to supply retailers with products that have less packaging and less cross-contamination puts you at a competitive advantage, he said.
Other industry players at the conference agreed that making gains in sustainability has helped their bottom lines. Read about UPS’ strategies to curtail millions of metric tons of emissions. Hear Samsung talk about the benfits of incorporating lifecycle management into business plans.
Photo: Steve Uhraney