Plant Life

0313_begreen-001Be Green Packaging still growing plans in Ridgeland

Walk through Be Green Packaging, a nondescript plant in Ridgeland, and you may see a few familiar sights, depending on your choice of razor.

The tray that holds Gillette’s Fusion ProGlide razors, touted during the Olympics, is made in the company’s China factory and distributed partly through the Ridgeland plant. So are the food containers used by celebrity chef Wolfgang Puck’s frozen foods, the Whole Foods grocery chain, Proctor & Gamble and several other corporations.
So why are we talking about a nondescript plant in our environmentally themed issue? Because every one of the boxes, packages and containers we’ve just mentioned aren’t manufactured — they’re grown.
In the Ridgeland plant’s offices, Viola Heyward not only handles office manager duties, but also just about everything else needed to further the promotion and distribution of the packaging.
0313_begreen-006“Just smell these plates,” she said. They have a faint aroma of natural plants – like sun-dried wheat. The Be Green Packaging is, in fact, made of sustainable plant fiber, so it is no surprise that it a close-up sniff brings that image to mind.
The fibers come from renewable wild-harvested plants that grow freely in China: Bulrush, bamboo, wheat straw, bagasse — what remains after crushing the juice out of sugarcane or sorghum stalks, rice and kenaf — sometimes known as hemp or jute.
“Bulrush is the main ingredient,” said sales manager Marc Blitzer, “and the fibers are ground and then turned into rolls of paper. The paper is then put into vats with water, turned into pulp and pressed into the forms we need.”
The sample roll in Blitzer’s office is heavy-duty paper, but not nearly as stiff as the tray samples on the opposite wall. More than a dozen different shapes and sizes tacked onto the bulletin board display the variety of options from which a company might choose to purvey its product.
“We take into consideration two sides in manufacturing,” he said. “There’s the sustainable side – making sure we use renewable, sustainable products like the bulrush. And there’s the disposable side – how do you get rid of something? There’s recycle, landfill or compost. These are both compostable and recyclable.”
There is obviously competition with the use of Styrofoam products, and Blitzer has part of the answer.
“Five of our little sushi trays take up the same space as one Styrofoam sushi tray. That’s one truck versus five trucks hauling the same thing,” he said. “But producing our product is a little more costly than theirs.”
The overall cost may even out if everything is taken into account, but there is still long-term familiarity with Styrofoam. That is not lost on Heyward, who is both an employee and a strong advocate of the company.
0313_begreen-008“We work hard here to be green. I talk about it when I’m out and about,” she said. “I live in the area and I was looking for a job, but this place carries an atmosphere of not only being great people to work for, but it is real. It is what we need. I went from a big vehicle to a small one. I don’t need to pollute the air. All my life I’ve been used to the Styrofoam and it doesn’t do anything for us. But because of this company, I’m very proud to be able to promote it because it’s the future.”
As for Be Green’s future, the plan is to take this distribution point and make it a full-fledged manufacturing facility. It’s a big change, and change takes time. As frustrating as it may be for hopeful Ridgeland workers, it is every bit as frustrating for Blitzer’s brother, president and CEO Ron Blitzer.
“I can assure you that no one is more impatient than I am, nor more focused on getting this manufacturing plant up and running,” he recently wrote a prospective Ridgeland employee. “We are building a sustainable long term business in Ridgeland. It is a five-year plan, with five-year objectives. We are still in year two … good things take time.”
At the moment, a plant tour consists of reading informative posters on the office walls and looking at boxes of recently arrived products stacked in pallets in the huge warehouse that used to manufacture modular homes. A shipping container comes into the Savannah ports, gets emptied at the plant and the boxes of trays, plates, sandwich containers and salad bowls are trucked to customers around the country. 
Blitzer understands the impatience of the plant’s neighbors waiting for one of the 170 or so jobs that will come when the facility is going full steam. As his brother also noted in his letter, Blitzer said the main thing delaying operations here is equipment. The product is being manufactured in China in sterile plants which the Be Green team visits regularly. That’s also where presses and forming machines are currently being tested before being shipped to Ridgeland, installed and operated.
“The holdup is having the right equipment and the right people to run it,” said Blitzer. “The first presses and formers we tested did not do the job, so we’re on a second set. If it all goes well, we’ll bring in three machines to produce the packaging. It’s our money in the game and we want to do it right.”0313_begreen-003
That does not mean there is no work carried out within Be Green’s 33 acres in Ridgeland. Marc said the most visible things are the goats that wander around the property eating the weeds (they’re trained to stay within the property fences) and the stormwater retention pond at the back of the property – a luxurious view that Marc says almost comes with the expectation of a big-name hotel.
They’ve also added eco-friendly additions via roads, water, irrigation, and energy recovery sub systems all designed to increase efficiency and mitigate the plant’s footprint.
In the meantime, cases of Be Green Packaging arrive in boxes that are appropriately labeled: “Shipping boxes are made of 100% post-consumer paper.”