Ron Chislow grew up around manufacturing—his father worked for Ford facilities in northeast Ohio and often would let his son visit him at the plant.
“It always amazed me how they could produce cars with so many configurations, always having the right components on hand when the cars passed each station,” Chislow says of visiting Ford plants when he was growing up. “The planning and coordination back through the supply chain had to be incredible. I wanted to be part of something that turned a thought into a thing.”
He says he enjoyed learning about the plant processes his father was involved in at Ford, but he didn’t always intend to pursue a career in manufacturing or plastics recycling. He initially started his career as an accountant.
In the early 1990s, Chislow worked as a controller for Multibase Inc., a plastics compounding business based in Copley, Ohio, but he eventually transitioned to management positions and handled more sales and purchasing for that company.
“I worked in public accounting for a couple of regional firms, but I found out I enjoyed manufacturing a lot more,” he says. “I went from controller to manager of administration at Multibase. Eventually, I started to handle everything in the middle between purchasing and sales.”
When Chislow joined Multibase, the company focused on serving automotive markets. In the mid-1990s, Multibase transitioned to serve high-end thermoplastic elastomers (TPE) markets, leaving some niche automotive markets without a compounding solution.
“Postconsumer plastics really do have some good physical properties that translate into good materials for us.” – Ron Chislow, chief operating officer, Buckeye Polymers
In 1995, Chislow and his colleague, Jeffrey Fisher, decided to leave the company to start their own venture—Buckeye Polymers Inc. in Lodi, Ohio.
To anyone not familiar with Ohio, it is nicknamed “the Buckeye State,” which is in part where the company gets its name.
The Lodi location has its perks—Chislow says it’s within 300 miles of 90 percent of the company’s customers. He adds, “The Midwest is a hotbed for polypropylene (PP) material applications, including Detroit.”
Chislow and Fisher started Buckeye Polymers with just a single extruder and about five employees. The business partners had intended to focus on using and manufacturing virgin resins. Yet, over the years, the company expanded into plastics recycling as well. Buckeye Polymers now uses virgin resins, postindustrial materials and postconsumer materials.
Today, Chislow is the chief operating officer at Buckeye Polymers. He says the company has grown “vastly” since launching about 25 years ago and now employs a team of 116 people.
Buckeye operates two facilities—one in Lodi, which solely focuses on compounding proprietary resins, and one in Sebring, Ohio, about 60 miles from the Lodi plant, that focuses on recycling postindustrial and postconsumer plastics.
The plant in Lodi measures about 40,000 square feet and houses the company’s compounding division that manufactures PP impact copolymers, reinforced PP, TPEs, thermoplastic vulcanizates (TPVs) and thermoplastic olefins (TPOs). It’s an ISO 9001:2015-certified facility with a full lab and research and development capabilities.
Buckeye Polymers’ Sebring facility measures roughly 60,000 square feet and houses postconsumer processing lines with 30 million pounds of annual processing capacity.
Chislow says both operations are open 24 hours per day, six days per week.
After about one decade in business, Buckeye Polymers branched out to postindustrial recycling. Chislow says the company had been approached by General Motors and a couple of other automotive manufacturers interested in working with Buckeye Polymers on postindustrial recycling jobs.
“The volumes and opportunities [in the automotive industry] are what led us down this path,” he says. “We started working with some postindustrial recyclers to get some circular programs going from parts that were coming out of the automotive industry. They would make scrap parts and then use the parts back into finished compounds. That was our first foray into recycling. It was also a good opportunity to make us different.”
By 2008, Buckeye further expanded into postconsumer recycling during the onset of the Great Recession. It was also around that time that the company opened its second facility in Sebring that was to be much more focused on its recycling business.
“The automotive market had come to a screeching halt, and a lot of the things we based our material streams off of were gone overnight,” Chislow says of that time. “So, we were kind of left looking and asked ourselves, ‘What is recession-proof? What is something you can use to make feedstocks and still be able to recycle?’ Postconsumer recycling was the logical choice to look at.”
Chislow adds that the company received postconsumer bales from “every corner of North America.”
While working with postconsumer plastics can be challenging, he says this type of material offers some benefits, such as only having one heat history. “Postconsumer plastics really do have some good physical properties that translate into good materials for us.”
Differentiating the business
In the past year, postconsumer plastics have been a tougher sell with very low virgin resin prices. But Chislow says Buckeye Polymers focuses on selling the quality of its postconsumer materials. “We’re not the cheapest option on the block, but our focus is always on properties and consistent quality,” he says. “We’re not a company that just takes materials, melts them down and then asks our sales team to sell them. We’re more of a job shop. People come to us looking for properties that they need the compound to have, and we develop it for them.”
Buckeye also has invested in the ability to make various custom colors in recent years. “If a customer was buying virgin resin and adding concentrate to make something like a hanging basket, we are using postconsumer materials to make that same color green for them. That differentiates us and brings our capabilities way up,” he says.
Buckeye processes about 24 million pounds of postconsumer plastics and 10 million pounds of postindustrial plastics at its Sebring site. The company plans to add 100 million pounds of capacity by the end of 2020 to meet demand for recycled PP from the packaging industry.
Chislow says many of Buckeye’s consumers are in housewares, lawn and garden, building products and automotive.
The company recently entered into an alliance with Jenerxx Group, Royal Oak, Michigan. “They are our new strategic partner charged with rolling out new sustainable resins that will have certified PCR (postconsumer resin) content,” Chislow says, adding that it has applied for a trademark designation of “Sustainable Resins.”
He says he sees opportunities ahead for PCR. “Brand owners are waking up to the realization that end-of-life answers for their products are vital. Closing the loop by reintroducing recycled materials back into their products is the logical step.”
Chislow continues, “We at Buckeye Polymers are continually advocating for [PCR] usage as one leg of what should be a multipronged attack on reducing materials being landfilled.”