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June 2007

A Closer Look E-mail the author

Maine Plastics, Inc.

Maine Plastics evolved out of an existing scrap business by lucky coincidence, according to Robert Render, the company’s president.

In 1982, Robert Render’s father, Hank, had a heart attack then bypass surgery to correct the problem. At that time Hank was running Maine Scrap, a metal recycling company. Unlike today’s quick recuperations, Hank was told that he would have to take it easy for a long time, but that he could go to the golf course to “chip and putt.”

At the golf course, Hank struck up a conversation with a fellow golfer who happened to be in the plastics business. To Hank, recycling plastic sounded like a good idea. “It was a natural extension of being in the scrap metal business,” Robert said.

Hank pursued the idea, and Maine Plastics was born that same year. “The business was doubling each year, in pounds and dollars,” Robert said. “It didn’t take long before the plastics business was bigger than the metals.”

Meanwhile, Robert Render was pursuing a different path. He had an opportunity to buy some pallet racking that was offered as scrap, but Robert had another idea: buying and selling racking as used, but usable, material. That idea evolved into Maine Material Handling, which Robert ran from 1983 to 1992. In 1992, the used material handling portion of the business was sold to another local company, and Robert started working for Maine Plastics.

The scrap metal side of the business was also sold. “We don’t have a retail operation – no door trade,” Robert said. Plastic is the main focus of the business, but the company will also handle metals or paper for customers who need that service. “Industrial plastic is the majority of the business,” he said.

Robert said that for companies that generate a significant amount of plastic, but just a little metal and paper, getting someone to pick up the small amounts can be a problem. Metal and paper recyclers will tell that customer to accumulate a large enough quantity to make the pickup worthwhile, or they will charge for the pickup service. To address those customer concerns, Maine Plastics will pick up the metal and paper along with the plastic. Robert calls it “one-source recycling,” a phrase he trademarked. Not only does one-source recycling address what to do with the scrap, it addresses how to handle it. Robert explained that if a customer is dealing with several vendors for the different types of scrap, it ties up floor space if the material is staged indoors for pickup, or it ties up dock space if the material is loaded onto trailers or into containers. With one vendor picking it all up, “They can put it on one truck,” Robert said. “It’s convenient.”

Robert said that whatever a customer wants, he tries to find a way to do it. “We’re supplier-driven,” he said. “We do a lot of product destruction for people. They want certificates.” He said that years ago, “the reputation in the industry was not good,” and customers were concerned about scrapped products ending up back in the marketplace, but he has worked to change that reputation. “We have a very ethical approach,” he said. “I learned it from my dad.”

Much of the plastic that comes into Maine Plastics goes right back to the source. “Generators are also customers,” Robert said. However, 40 percent of the material is sold for export, with customers in about 12 different countries.

While it used to be more common for plastics manufactures to grind their own material, “people don’t want to take up the floor space,” he said. As a result, truckload weights have gone down. What would weigh 30,000 lbs. if it was ground might now only be an 8,000 lb. load. “Cost of transportation has become very important.” Robert said. It also means more processing. “We have to do more to sell it,” he said.

On the technical side, Maine Plastics has a lab “so we can test the properties of the plastic,” Robert said, which increases the quality rating from the consumers. And it helps the bottom line. “If you check the melt index, you can get more for it.”

“The plastics business is very complex, and most of the time one person can’t do everything that is required,” Robert said. With plastics, the nearest consumer might be across the country, so “you need to have a network of people and companies.” Sometimes a competitor is the only one with the relationship to sell to a particular consumer. “We do a lot of business with our competitors,” Robert said. “That’s been the most gratifying – putting that network together. The development of the relationships has been really interesting.”

“We don’t do it just for the money,” Robert said. “It’s fun, too.” He particularly likes working out “weird deals – everyone around here calls them ‘Bob deals,’” he said. “Most of the time it involves companies that have made mistakes,” Robert said. “They don’t want anyone to know about it, they just want it taken care of quietly.” So it’s up to him to find the “interesting solution to make it work.”

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