Feature

The man who helped KO TO’s plastic bag ban: Talking with CPIA Leader of the Year Gerry Maldoff

Most of us would probably consider being a lawyer as a safe-as-houses route towards economic security. Gerry Maldoff didn’t, and gave up practicing law for a career in plastics.


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June 18, 2013 by Canadian Plastics

Gerry Maldoff on the shop floor.
Gerry Maldoff on the shop floor.

Most of us would probably consider being a lawyer as a safe-as-houses route towards economic security. Gerry Maldoff didn’t, and gave up practicing law for a career in plastics.

Turns out to have been the right move for him, and a net gain for our industry. And you can bet the Canadian Plastics Industry Association (CPIA) thinks so too: they just named Maldoff, the president and CEO of Toronto-based plastic shopping bag maker Hymopack Ltd., as this year’s Leader of the Year.

A NEW CAREER AND NEW CHALLENGES

A Montreal native, Maldoff graduated from McGill University Law School with his Bachelor of Civil Law in 1976 and Bachelor of Commerce Law in 1977, and moved to Toronto to spend the next several years practicing at a mid-sized downtown firm. But something wasn’t quite right. “I enjoyed the intellectual challenge of practicing law, but I had a young and growing family and wanted to create financial security for them by working in a business and building equity in it,” he said. In 1983, Maldoff’s father-in-law Harvey Rosenbloom convinced him to join Hymopack, which was the Rosenbloom group of businesses. “It was the best of all situations: a job in a growing industry, in a family business that — because Harvey was located in Montreal — nonetheless gave me a degree of autonomy,” he said. “I didn’t know much about plastic bags or the plastics industry, but I learned about both quickly, in part from going out on sales calls with Harvey.”

Fast forward 30 years, and Rosenbloom and Maldoff have transformed Hymopack from a fledgling plastic bag maker into a leading North American manufacturer of carryout plastic shopping bags. The company occupies 130,000 square feet of office and manufacturing space and employs 175 workers in a 24/7 operation. “Our targets are the major retailers, and we work with distributors for smaller accounts,” Maldoff said. It hasn’t always been easy, especially lately. “In the last five years, there has been tremendous consolidation on both the supplier and customer sides of the industry, and today there are only three major supermarket chains, two major department store chains, two major drug store chains, and three major hardware chains,” he said. “The result is a much more competitive marketplace in which only the strong, efficient, and cost-competitive will survive. Consistent reinvestment in new technology is critical to being a low-cost producer.”

In line with market changes, the industry has had to make umpteen other adjustments in the decades since Maldoff arrived on the scene. The bag of choice, originally the Wave-Top bag, eventually gave way to T-Shirt bags, first in low and then in high density plastics. Alongside these changes, Maldoff has actively contributed to innovations and improvements in the manufacturing process to make plastic bags thinner and stronger. And in addition to managing Hymopack, Maldoff has been instrumental in supporting Dyne-A-Pak, Eastern Canada’s leading foam tray manufacturer; and Associated Paper Mills, Canada’s leading paper bag manufacturer.

BANNING THE BAN

Historically, Maldoff has played an integral part of the CPIA Plastic Bag Committee, initially promoting the plastic bag industry but working more recently to prevent or overturn restrictions on plastic bags in no less than 150 jurisdictions, lending both his advice and financial assistance to the cause. Perhaps most important to date, he played a crucial role in facing down the mother of all restrictions: the battle to reverse a proposed ban on plastic bags in Toronto. In case you hadn’t heard, in June 2012 Toronto City Council approved a resolution to ban single-use plastic carryout shopping bags effective January 1, 2013.

The move was the definition of a whim — undertaken with no notice, no opportunity for industry or public comment, and no report or study or recommendations by Toronto city staff on a potential ban — and Maldoff chaired the Plastic Bag Advisory Sub-Committee, which was responsible for the formulation and implementation of a multi-pronged strategy to reverse it. He also provided assistance in the hiring of key consultants — including experts on government relations, public relations, and coalition building — to assist in strategy formulation and implementation. Key components of the strategy were the formation of an organization called the Canadian Plastic Bag Association, and that group’s launching of legal action against the City. Here, too, Maldoff was a driving force, putting his background in law to good use in interviewing and helping select an experienced legal counsel, and helping to hone the legal arguments. Finally, he was instrumental in designing an effective fundraising plan that collected over $250,000 to manage the ban issue, and — through Hymopack — contributed financially to ensure all costs would be covered.

In the face of this legal challenge, City Council blinked, voting 38 to 7 to rescind the ban. With Goliath KO’d, Maldoff can relax and offer his post-mortem on the fight. “We discovered early on that many of the councillors had clearly been confused about what they were voting on, and that the decision as implemented was unlawful,” he said. “As we investigated further, it became clear that the majority of Torontonians were opposed to the ban — they want more effective plastic bag recycling, not limitations placed on plastic bag use. Since almost all bags are reused for organics collection and household waste, banning them would only have resulted in Torontonians having to purchase thicker, more expensive bags for these purposes, and the majority of the people knew it. The lawsuit was certainly helpful, but public opinion was against the ban, and I believe that was what really decided the issue.”

Maldoff is just as modest about being selected as the CPIA’s Leader of the Year. “Being respected by my peers is a source of real satisfaction, and receiving the award will be a tremendous honour,” he said.

And unlike Toronto’s bag ban misstep, there’s no need to reverse this decision.


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