Capt, Director of Innovation and Sustainability with Balcan Plastics discusses how the company contributes to innovation and progress by developing new products. He also speaks to the importance of plastics in a modern and sustainable economy, and how Canada can continue to develop a circular economy.
For anyone who isn’t aware of Balcan, can you give a brief introduction to the company and the area of the plastics value chain you focus on?
Balcan is a leader in the industrial packaging market, producing technical film and flexible packaging. Whether you are renovating your home, or taking care of your garden, the soil, insulation or shingle that you need, may be packaged in one of our products. Other everyday life examples include, mattresses, dry-cleaning, and food items. Our products touch many industries and are used by Canadians in so many facets of their lives.
Balcan also produces materials that are used for non-packaging applications. For instance, every house in Canada needs a Vapor Barrier when constructed, which we produce. We also manufacture reflective insulation, used in buildings, and tamper evident security bags, used in the banking and other cash transport industries.
What is the approximate size of your company?
Starting in Montreal in 1967, we are now comprised of eight manufacturing facilities located in Quebec, Ontario and in the US. We currently employ over 1,000 people.
What are Balcan’s views on innovation and how to you approach product design?
Balcan constantly focuses on technological improvement to meet our customers’ needs. I personally have always been interested in “Life Cycle Assessment” and overall sustainability. For the last ten years we are passionate about understanding what factors drive the overall environmental footprint, not just the carbon footprint, of our operations and products.
Balcan has implemented an eco-design policy for our products with two key guiding principles: a product has to be safe by design and circular by design. Circular by design means we aim to eliminate any unnecessary packaging, we favour reusability, and strive for products to be ultimately recyclable or compostable. Every decision in the innovation process must be backed up by science-based facts.
What are some of the challenges you face?
While it is true that the vast majority of our products can be recycled, what remains unknown is whether they are in fact actually recycled. North America has not completely implemented a harmonized infrastructure that is needed to collect, sort, and chemically or mechanically recycle manufactured goods.
Our focus continues to be on the acceleration of the circular economy by continuously increasing the recyclability of, and recycled content in, our products.
Any new projects on the horizon?
Right now, we are working on “closed loop” innovative pilot projects where plastics at the end of their useful life are collected at one company, washed and mechanically recycled, and then added as recycled content back into the company’s own products. We were delighted to discover that product with 25% recycled content has the same qualitative attributes as the virgin product.
We aim to prove that this closed loop concept is feasible to further support the development of large-scale infrastructure. These are the types of circular innovation projects we concentrate on.
Compared to even a few years ago, is there more of an appetite from companies to partner on innovative projects like the one you just described?
Yes, absolutely. One of our recent closed-loop projects was conceived when someone noticed they had a lot of scrap or leftover plastic and realized there must be something useful that could be done with it. They approached us and we have worked together to create a solution, and now the project is ready to be rolled out company wide.
Requests for more circular products are growing exponentially in the market as businesses (and their customers), like us, strive to be more eco-friendly.
You’re an active CIAC Plastics Division member. What do you see as the benefits of being part of the division?
It is fantastic to have access to a network of people with similar interests, which ultimately drives conversations and then innovation. For example, in the Mechanical Recycling Working Group, real issues within the industry are identified and ideas, actions, and levers to improve innovation are discussed.
Being part of the plastics division, members are at the forefront of what is happening in the industry. Ideas are shared not only with respect to the flexible side of packaging, but also regarding rigid packaging. Together experiences are shared and lessons learned from different areas of the plastics value chain.