Canadian Plastics
Feature

Que.-based foam product maker POLYFORM is branching out


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February 25, 2015 by Canadian Plastics

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More and more, it feels like it’s a polystyrene foam world and we just live in it. From insulating concrete in homes to beer koozies by the pool, expanded polystyrene (EPS) and expanded polypropylene (EPP) are everywhere. Including landfills, unfortunately, where they pile up faster than Justin Bieber’s royalty cheques – more than almost any other post-consumer plastic, in fact. It’s a problem that Granby, Que.-based plastics processor Polyform Inc. decided to tackle when it opened a recycling facility in 2011. The results have been good enough to win the company some serious accolades – and recycling isn’t even what it does best.
FINDING ITS NICHE
Polyform was founded in 1963 by Jean-Louis Béliveau as an aluminum mold maker, and began injection molding PS foam products five years later. Fast forward to today, and the family owned company is a leading supplier of EPS and EPP products for the construction, automotive, and packaging industries. The firm has three divisions – industrial, insulation, and environmental – with over 150 production lines, and a total of 1.1 million square feet of building and factory space in eight different locations in Canada and the U.S., not including a new facility in Alberta that’s set to open in Spring 2015.If you’ve heard of Polyform, odds are it’s because of its flagship product offering, Nudura. “Nudura is an ICF – insulated concrete form – formwork construction systems for concrete, consisting of foam blocks stacked one on top of the other, with rebars inserted throughout, to create a monolithic wall that’s hurricane-proof,” said François Beauchesne, Polyform’s vice president of sales and business development. “In North America, Polyform is a major manufacturer of permanent ICF, and we sell Nudura in over 36 countries globally for use in hotels, movie theatres, schools, shopping malls and more.”

In addition to Nudura, Polyform offers a wide range of insulation products used for the renovation and new construction industries. Chief among these is the Hydrofoam 360 brand of individually molded 4′ by 4′ insulating panels. “Hydrofoam 360 has a multi anchor design on the panel surface for installing hydronic heating pipes for hot water for residential and commercial projects,” Beauchesne said. “The panels are overlapped and nestable with four sides, which allows for greater efficiency during installation of each panel and better sealing of the insulated surface when installed.”

The company’s success with construction-related products sometimes overshadows its product offerings for the automotive and packaging sectors – which are nothing to sneeze at. “What people don’t always appreciate about Polyform is its involvement and expertise in the automotive industry, which dates back more than 20 years,” Beauchesne said. “We’ve been making bigger investments in this sector lately, though, since we believe that EPP and EPS are going to be crucial elements in lightweighting cars going forward.” At present, the company makes interior automotive parts for headrests, doors, and – you’ve seen these when changing a flat – EPP spare wheel wells in vehicle trunks. “The next step for foam bumpers is to add foam inserts to make them even lighter and more efficient as energy absorbers, and this is another area we’re concentrating on,” Beauchesne said.

The company also offers a slew of packaging solutions for a range of business sectors. “We can create EPS assemblies with wooden slats for household appliances, EPP returnable platforms for the automotive sector, molded EPP anti-static packaging for electronic parts, and corrugated plastics in either EPS or EPP,” Beauchesne continued.

A BETTER FOAM RECYCLING MOUSETRAP
Polyform’s expertise in EPS and EPP made it particularly well-suited to appreciate the difficulties in recycling plastic foam, which has always been a big-time lagger when it comes to post-use recovery. “Foam is recycled in Europe because Europeans approach recycling as a philosophy,” Beauchesne said. “In North America, recycling is a business, and foam’s biggest advantage – the fact that it’s lightweight, made of between 90 to 95 per cent air – becomes its biggest drawback, since all of this air has comparatively little value. For this reason, almost no recycler wants to touch EPS and EPP – they prefer denser, more profitable plastics.” The unfortunate result? More than 100 Canadian and U.S. cities have either banned foamed PS or are currently working on ordinances to do so in efforts to “solve” the problem of EPS and EPP products piling up in landfills.

Polyform had a better idea. “Since it isn’t cost-effective to buy post-use EPS and EPP due to its low cash value, we had to find a way to make the recovery process at least pay for itself – which we were able to do by receiving these materials from our customers at no charge at the end of product lifecycle,” Beauchesne said. “We don’t do this because it’s a money maker for us or because we want to become plastics recyclers, we do it simply to divert PS from landfill sites – it’s good for the environment and good for the reputation of the material.”

Still, for a non-profit, the recycling operation hasn’t done badly – it became successful enough to necessitate Polyform opening a dedicated 40,000-square-foot recycling factory four years ago, and won the company a Sustainability Award from the Canadian Plastics Industry Association (CPIA) last year. “We receive product from a variety of sources – customers, local Ecocentres, and more – and then clean, sort, and reprocess it, recovery virtually 100 per cent of the material,” Beauchesne said. “But we recycle a lot more than just expanded foam, including plastic tarps for boats and rigid plastic like bus signs, skids, and electoral signs. The recycled material all goes back into manufacturing Nudura construction products, and any surplus material is sold on the market. Projects of this type could be an alternative to banning PS foam packaging.”

In November 2014, Polyform partnered with the City of Montreal and the CPIA when Montreal’s LaSalle Ecocentre PS recovery and recycling pilot program – which saw the recovery of more than two and half tonnes of PS between October 2013 and September 2014 – was extended for five years. “The company is proud to participate in this recycling program,” Beauchesne said. “Our recycling centre recycles up to five million kilograms of plastics every year, including the PS containers and packaging that we find regularly in the Montreal homes. These containers and packaging represent another source of recycled content.”

If you think diversifying into new automotive, packaging, and recycling initiatives is taking Polyform away from its roots, think again. “Early on, our founder Jean-Louis Béliveau implemented a vision that he called ‘practical innovation’ – innovation that serves the purpose of making the end product better, not just innovation for its own sake,” Beauchesne said. “We’re still following this approach today, and it’s a big reason for our success.”

Sounds like a good reason to raise a glass in toast – beer koozie definitely included.