Operating on a global scale doesn't mean you can't be mindful of the environment. Two Eugene companies are putting sustainable business practices first.
Article by Elon Glucklich | Photos courtesy of PakTech and Bulk Handling Systems
Sustainability has long been a part of Lane County's ethos.
It's no surprise that sustainability is central to some of the region's fastest-growing, globally focused businesses.
As industries have adapted to changes in markets and consumer habits, local companies like PakTech and Bulk Handling Systems have developed some of the most innovative solutions to expand their global markets, while positively affecting issues like recycling and climate change.
“I have always grown up with environmental responsibility, social responsibility and personal responsibility being paramount to a healthy life," said Eugene native Zak Borg, PakTech's Vice President and Director of Engineering, also the son of company founder Jim Borg.
Founded in 1991, PakTech manufactures millions of recycled plastic food and beverage handles to secure packages like six-packs of beer or soda. But its business has grown rapidly since the company's decision in 2012 to switch to post-consumer recycled plastic resin pellets to run through its mold presses.
Today, nearly all of its products are made entirely from recycled plastic.
"This has been a huge accomplishment," said PakTech Sustainability Officer Gary Panknin. And since making the shift to recycled resin, PakTech's success has reached even higher levels. It opened a manufacturing plant in Cottage Grove in 2017, in addition to its main facility in northwest Eugene, and the company is working on opening a second Eugene plant.
As its list of customers has grown to include big brands like Campbell's, Welch's and Heinz, as well as a wave of smaller craft breweries, PakTech's employee count has skyrocketed from less than 120 in 2010 to more than 250 today.
"One of the drivers I hear a lot from the customer side is that they're jumping on board with what feels like the right thing to do from a sustainability standpoint—using recycled material," Panknin said. "Customers that have partnered with us are heavily invested in that."
A similar theme has played out at Bulk Handling Systems. The Eugene company was founded in 1976 as a conveying and screening equipment supplier for forest products and power generation users, but quickly moved its focus to technology aimed at removing recyclable materials from waste streams as it saw the market grow.
"With today's recycling markets in flux as China has ended its imports of plastic waste from the United States, everyone from industrial clients to municipalities are looking for ways to reduce waste in their local recycling streams," according to Bulk Handling Systems CEO, Steve Miller.
"Our customers are telling us that they're looking for practical solutions that they can implement in the real world," Miller said.
But finding solutions to more recent environmental and supply stream issues has required creativity, and a willingness to branch out beyond Bulk Handling's core service of improving waste streams.
The company is increasingly investing in alternative energy resources like biogas, designing products to extract energy from stacked organic materials found in municipal solid waste facilities. According to Millers those materials have the potential to replace dirtier fuels like coal and diesel in industries such as transportation. They also have the added benefit of removing the material from landfills, where it would otherwise sit and emit methane as it slowly breaks down.
"Recycling is always the first option. We take the highest and best use approach, so extracting a plastic bottle or aluminum can or piece of paper and having it be reused, that's always the first option and provides the most value," Miller said. "But there are other values that exist, and they take more work and there's more of a process within it. But when you add on the environmental attributes to the fact that they commercially work, those are the things that we're delivering to our customers. And we're doing it in response to the demand we see out there."
The issues Bulk Handling Systems and PakTech are looking to solve are playing out all over the world, including our backyard.
PakTech has stepped up as a leader in local recycling efforts. The company launched its own recycling program, encouraging people to return its handles to participating locations so the company can reuse the material again. It has more than 250 recycling partners, including more than a dozen in the greater Eugene-Springfield area. The company has also responded to the recent cutback of curbside recycling by launching its own internal employee recycling program.
PakTech also wants to help local governments improve their entire waste streams, in response to challenges the local area and communities around the world have faced as China has closed its borders to plastic waste. "We're trying to play a major role in the Eugene community, and Lane County as a whole, as a company here that has a voice and is putting out that you have sustainable solutions to these problems," Panknin said.
Miller thinks globally and considers Lane County one member of a coalition committed to finding solutions to issues like climate change. But their global and local focuses are just one of the many ways that Lane County companies like Bulk Handling Systems and PakTech find business success while contributing to the region’s ecosystem of sustainable innovation.
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