Plastic bag maker talks about his journey to sustainability

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There aren’t many books written by professionals in the plastics industry that don’t involve chemistry, let alone this moonlight as a travelogue. But Trent A. Romer’s book, Finding sustainability: the personal and professional journey of a plastic bag manufacturer (Business books, June 2021), combines his love for the great outdoors with his dedication to the family-owned plastic bag manufacturing business in Albany, NY.

The Clear View Bag Co. was founded in 1961 as The Box and Bow. It was started by Romer’s grandparents Donald and Fulvia Strevell, who sold decorative packaging in the barn behind their house. This company has developed into the custom manufacturing of cellophane and polyethylene products.

Like most family businesses, family was the primary source of labor for the business, and in 2007 Trent’s father sold the business to his two sons. Today, the company mainly manufactures custom plastic packaging and employs around 70 people. Trent Romer holds a college degree, including a Masters in Education and an MBA. These degrees, along with his long-standing experience in the family business, mean that the third generation has been very successful.

The manufacturer’s duty to the environment.

The cover of the June 2018 issue of National Geographic caught Romer’s attention and made him think about the duty of a plastic bag maker to the environment. The cover represents the ocean with what appears to be the tip of an iceberg, but below the surface you see it is a single-use plastic bag. It gave Romer a break, who said the issue “seemed too big to ignore.”

Those of us with careers in the plastics industry cringe when we see plastic in the environment. Earlier today, I looked out of my office window and saw a plastic bag blowing in my front yard. A cactus hung it up, holding it tight until I could come out and grab it and take it to my recycling bin before anyone could see it and blame the plastics industry.

Romer adopted a “no waste” mindset, which he embraced “with all his heart”. He took three courses on an online platform founded by Harvard and MIT, including The Circular Economy and Sustainable Packaging in a Circular Economy. He learned that “there is no waste in a circular system. Reuse, recycle and compost are the three main paths ”, when it comes to sustainability.

There isn’t much in Romer’s book that I disagree with, but he did mention that some salvaged materials “turn into lower quality or less functional products, such as plastic packaging. high quality recycled hard plastic fencing “. I would hardly call Trex or Azek products “downcycling”. If you’ve ever seen these amazing decking and fence products that last for decades and require very little maintenance, you have to agree that these high-quality products made from scraps of plastic are a perfect solution.

Romer continued his learning journey by attending Ekoplaza in Amsterdam, where he visited a “plastic-free” supermarket, and he attended the EuPC Plastics Strategy conference in Brussels. He exhibited at Pack Expo, where he began to research “market commentary”. Romer was always looking for ways to learn from others so that he could improve his own sustainability efforts and “navigate the new challenges that threaten” his existence.

Key properties of sustainable alternatives.

During this process, Romer learned three things about sustainable alternatives for packaging:

  • They should work and appear very similar to what is currently in use. “If a more durable alternative does not serve the purpose of the existing material at the same level, the alternative will not be considered,” he noted.
  • The price of a more sustainable alternative should be roughly equal to that of existing materials.
  • Third, he noted that he needed to deepen the supply chain to find innovators with sustainable alternatives.

In 2018, Romer applied to Harvard University’s Executive Education for Sustainability Leadership, a five-day program on sustainability and how to embed it in organizations. At Harvard, Romer learned about the Sustainable Development Goals, which would help “form the basis of our new corporate vision.”

Romer is also a man of faith, so becoming as sustainable as possible means “it’s personal”. He tries to apply the lessons he learns on Sundays to his working life during the week. He readily admits, however, that his “drive to succeed in our family business and my faith can feel like a standoff,” noting that he has developed “growing insecurity about our plastic product around the end problem. of life. “, A” struggle that escalated as the anti-plastic narrative grew exponentially.

“I have realized over time that sustainability is where faith meets business,” he said. “Seeing my work from a sustainability perspective helps me practice my faith in my daily work, and the same goal allows me to work with increased faith. “

Romer cautions against “greening,” which “pushes well-intentioned environmental efforts to the extreme. In environmentalism, saving resources is all that matters, while trade and quality of life are secondary, he writes. “Extreme environmental mandates, actions and dialogue are likely reversing the sustainability movement. “

Romer is a good writer, and you’ll not only learn lessons about achieving sustainability in business, but you’ll also enjoy how he begins several chapters with an outdoor interlude, starting with a bike adventure at the park. National Haleakala in Maui. He truly displays his love for the natural world, which motivates him to dedicate himself to running a sustainable plastic packaging manufacturing business.

I recommend reading Romer’s book.

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