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BIG Fish Bows Out, Turning Tide for the Little Ones

Most of you probably know that big-fish-in-a-little pond analogy. So what happens when the big fish leaves? The little guys go looking for opportunity. Sierra Coating Technologies, DePere, WI, a self-described “little guy,” is making the most of its recent opportunity to catch some of the “big-fish” business.

Fluorocarbon Phase-Out
The big fish, in this case, is 3M, St. Paul, MN — the colossal consumer products producer (Scotch Tape, Post-It notes, e.g.), fittingly located in the “Land of 10,000 Lakes.”

A little over a year ago, 3M announced a phase-out of some of its Scotchgard materials, which include coatings that repel soil, oil, water, and grease. (Converters using these materials may know them as ScotchBan.)

The reason for the phase-out: fluorocarbon perfluorooctanyl, a chemical that, says Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), takes an enormous amount of time to decompose.

That isn't the only problem with it. According to David Barboza's 3M — EPA article (May 19, 2000) in the Univ. of Arkansas's Arkansas Pesticide Newsletter, “a 3M study showed…perfluorooctanyl sulfonate…lingered for years in human blood and animal tissue and, in high doses, was known to kill laboratory rats.”

According to Barboza's report, 3M's medical director Larry Zoebel doubts it will pose a serious health issue now or in the future. “To the question of whether this builds up in humans, it would have to be…hundreds of thousands of years to be a threat,” Barboza quotes Zoebel.

There are conflicting reports regarding 3M's decision to phase out products containing perfluorooctanyl. Barboza's report says that EPA had pressed 3M for action; 3M says it voluntarily decided to quit making the chemical. Regardless, 3M stopped its production in December 2000.

Winners All Around
Scientists have praised 3M's responsible decision to stop perfluorooctanyl, reports Barboza. They weren't the only ones applauding. Robert Shade, president of Sierra Coating Technologies, says he was glad to hear the news, too.

“When this story broke, we said to ourselves, ‘Okay, now we have a chance.’ We didn't just get into this business last summer,” he explains. “We've been trying to sell Seal-Coat products for years, but they've always been a little more expensive [than the 3M products]. However, because there are certain applications in which they work better, we've continued making our product, Seal-Coat.”

Unlike Scotchban, Seal-Coat is applied to a finished paper roll by a converter, not manufactured into the papermaking process at the mill.

Shade reports that Sierra's Seal-Coat possesses many of the grease-resistant properties as ScotchBan and does not contain fluorocarbon perfluorooctanyl. He lists the packaging areas in which Seal-Coat substrates can be used: food packaging (human and pet); specialty packaging; multi-layered bags; industrial packaging; medical packaging; and ream and roll-wrapping substrates. “Products using our coating for barrier can be recyclable, repulpable, and heat sealable. Seal-Coat also is FDA (Food and Drug Administration) approved,” Shade adds.

A Whale of an Opportunity
According to dotpackaging.com (May 31, 2000), “Paper packaging companies using 3M's ScotchBan products will need to look for alternatives following the company's announcement that it's phasing out the chemistry used to produce them.”

But, says Sierra Coating's coating operations director Gary Kozloski, the converting industry hasn't been too affected, as of yet. “[The product] didn't go away. People stockpiled it, and to this day, there are still machines running with ScotchBan on it,” he says. “The downturn of the paper industry [this year] has only extended that period; [the mills] are running less paper, so their inventories are lasting longer.”

The industry, Shade agrees, has kept afloat on the ScotchBan stockpiles, although he believes the “little guys” may find themselves furiously treading water soon. “The large users have noticed the problem; the little guys don't know yet. They don't order enough, so they don't talk to their paper mills enough, and they think it's going to keep coming. Well, they're going to start getting cut off — if they haven't already; the big converting companies are going to get the last drops of the stuff.”

And that's when opportunity for Sierra — and other companies like it — comes knocking. Shade explains: “Say a paper mill, one morning soon, runs out of ScotchBan. They have to start from ground zero to produce this chemical, versus 3M, which has known about this for a long time. If all 3M's Ph.D.s haven't come up with something, and they say it's going to be at least six years for testing and FDA approval, how are the paper mills going to come up with something?,” he wonders.

“Right now, there's a lot of phone calling going on,” Shade confides. “The market is really churning. I don't know who's going to win, but I think, for some period, a small company like ours has a chance to benefit and fulfill a crucial service until the industry gets back to putting this product on at the paper machine.”

Shade admits his company's alternative is not going to be as affordable as ScotchBan, simply because it's not put on during the paper-producing process. To take it to another machine, to increase a step in the process, he says, takes the price up with it.

Shade also confesses he's heard the “sticker shock” reaction from those that have inquired about Sierra's alternative. But, he adds, it's not possible for Sierra — or any cost-conscious company — to offer ScotchBan's affordability. “For the tons they're talking about, doing it off-line clearly is not the most economical. Hopefully, for us, there'll be a section of the industry that realizes we make a quality coated product, and we'll pick up some of the market.”

If you're using ScotchBan in your operation, it may be time to “cut bait,” as they say, and move on to the next fishing hole. Though it may be a more expensive move, it could yield a better market catch for the long term.

CONVERTER CONNECTION
Sierra Coating Technologies LLC DePere, WI
Ph: 920/983-8000
Fax: 920/983-0136
E-Mail: This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.
Web site: www.sierracoating.com


 

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