“Paper, or plastic?”
Almost anyone, if asked, will immediately point to paper as the far more eco-friendly representation of sustainable packaging. But, if you were to ask Emmanuel Cerf or Brian McCann of Polypack Inc, their answer may surprise you.
In Europe, they see many companies trying to reduce their plastic usage and plastic waste… but when those businesses attempt to divert over to paper packaging, they come up against unexpected roadblocks that aren’t always common knowledge in the public eye. “The reality is, it’s way too expensive,” shares Emmanuel. “And it’s also bad for the environment.” In Europe especially, the rising demand for paper goods is creating a new increased strain on the continent’s already-dwindling forests.
If paper packaging can be equally detrimental to the environment as plastic packaging, then the real dilemma companies face is: how can they grow to be genuinely sustainable and eco-friendly, without also losing money in the process?
Polypack may have the answer for them.
Emmanuel’s father Alain Cerf first started the company in his garage back in Europe, designing and engineering a bagging machine in the late 1950s. Now his legacy fills the Florida facility where his son, the Vice President of Sales & Marketing, continues the Polypack mission of designing equipment to package products for other businesses.
Most passersby might not even recognize the plain-looking building as any sort of manufacturing company… in fact, the signs out front instead advertise for the historical Tampa Bay Automobile Museum. But that’s no accident. Alain Cerf was also an avid collector of vintage vehicles, and part of the reason for this passion was because of the engineering feats that many of these cars represent.
“Polypack is based on technology and innovation,” Emmanuel shares, sitting in the middle of the museum amid their still-growing collection. These cars represent many of ‘the firsts’ of their kind, such as the first half-track vehicle, the first electric car, and the first hydrogen-fueled automobile. They’re regular reminders of pushing engineering and design boundaries, as well as creating equipment that’s easy to use and also built to last.
“Even though Polypack manufactures shrink-packaging equipment, we’re essentially an engineering company,” Brian McCann admits. As the Global Accounts Manager, he oversees projects of all sorts, for all kinds of companies across the food, pharmaceutical, and personal care industries. “Not only do we manufacture and provide machines that help customers package their product in a more sustainable manner, but we manufacture those machines with sustainability in mind through the use of solar energy [and] stainless steel components.”
Sustainability doesn’t just involve the waste generated by a product after it’s no longer being used, Emmanuel also points out. It also involves how much scrap is generated in the process of making that product in the first place.
“Whether it’s plastic, whether it’s paper–– it’s all about source reduction,” he explains. “The less you use, the better it is. If you put four people in a car, it’s going to be better than putting one person in a car–– whether that car is electric or gas-powered.”
That being said, alternative power is also an aspect of their business that Polypack has pursued with far more enthusiasm than most of their competitors or peers in the industry.
The solar array on the roof of the Polypack facility soaks up so much Florida sun that it generates over 90% of the power required to run the plant. A business like theirs would normally have to pay around $10,000 for electricity every month, but Polypack has seen bills as low as $15 since implementing the rooftop panels.
Plenty of businesses would love to see those kinds of low costs on their own bills, but many continue to drag their feet because the cost of installation would take more than two years to balance out and create a profit. It’s a roadblock that continues to keep the majority of manufacturers from innovating–– to their detriment, in Emmanuel’s opinion. “Everybody wants to be sustainable,” he agrees. “But you have to be able to afford it… Polypack has been green for the last sixty years, because that’s what we’ve always strived to do.”
“My industry of the future is using 100% recycled materials in easy-to-use, fully-automated equipment.”