For years, corporate America dismissed fears about global warming as unfounded. Interests in sustainable business were thought to be a waste of time and money. But as reality has begun to set in, the effects of greenhouse gases (GHGs) on the environment and the economical impact of natural resource waste are more evident now than ever before.
With this realization has come a change in the business practices of many U.S. corporations. Ford has introduced its “I guess it is easy being green” TV advertisements for its Escape hybrid SUV. GE, the world’s second-largest company measured by market value, introduced its “Ecomagination” initiative last year in an effort to cut GHG emissions and increase sales of its more energy-efficient product line. Companies such as General Electric Co. and DuPont Co. are taking steps to make their plants, as well as their products, more energy-efficient. These companies are also making strides to reduce emissions of the GHGs that are linked to global warming.
Large corporations aren’t the only ones that have realized the global responsibility of going green. Small companies in the United States are doing their part as well. Environmental benefits aren’t the only determining factor in this decision; some companies have also found that their efforts in sustainable business can be quite profitable.
Ohio-based Turtle Plastics is one such company. Founded in 1980 by lifelong environmentalist Tom Norton, this small company has seen giant profits from selling recycled floor mats. Turtle Plastics was originally started as a recycling company called Cleveland Reclaim Industries whose focus was grinding down used plastic material and pelletizing it. “I quickly realized that recycling plastic was great,” said Norton, “but I questioned what we could do with all this stuff. That’s when I decided to focus on making products instead of the collection and processing of the scrap.” As a result, Turtle Plastics was born. Today, the company takes the recycled plastic and turns it into floor mats used in restaurant kitchens, industrial plants, gyms, playgrounds and around hotel pools.
Business is growing, and Turtle Plastics has rounded out its market to reach veterinarians and other pet-related shops, horse stables, and the fire and rescue industry with a hose bridge that protects hoses from the weight of heavy trucks. However, the recycled plastics industry wasn’t always easy for Norton, a true environmentalist who drives a Toyota Prius hybrid as well as a Volkswagen Jetta diesel that has been converted to run off 100-percent-recycled vegetable oil. Industry experts and plastic engineers dismissed his early work in recycled plastics. Ignoring his critics, Norton’s persistence paid off—and in a big way. Sales last year were in excess of $4 million.
The process of turning used plastic into soft, spongy floor mats is quite simple. Scrap material is purchased through brokers. Recycling plants now take care of grinding the scrap into pellet form, and send the broken-down material to the Turtle Plastics plant, where it goes into an injection molding machine. This material is then heated to 500 degrees Fahrenheit, and injected into molds that produce two 12-by-12-inch mats every 60 seconds. Uncoated mats are then boxed and shipped to customers. Mats that are used in oily aggressive shops receive a non-slip coating. The coated mats are guaranteed to last the customer five years, while the uncoated mats have a life of only one year.
Of course, the customers are offered a buy-back program to recycle these worn-out mats as well. Customers are given a credit based on a weekly price quoted in Plastics News. The mats are then cleaned and sent to be ground to pellets so the process can start again. As for companies that do not recycle mats? “The plants just pitch them,” Norton explained. “We would hope that the ones that have pollutants like oil or transmission fluid would be treated like regulated waste.”
According to Norton, the environmental impact of recycling these mats is huge. “Unrecycled mats that are just dirty are a waste of a natural resource. If oil or other pollutants are on them and they just go to a regular landfill, then it becomes a serious problem.”
More information on Turtle Plastics can be found at http://www.turtleplastics.com
Jeff Orloff is associate editor of green@work magazine.