Although styrofoam is not a substance that one usually associates with sustainability, Termotécnica is on a mission to change this perception. Headquartered in the town of Joinville, Santa Catarina, Termotécnica is Brazil’s leading manufacturer of EPS (expanded polystyrene foam a.k.a. Styrofoam) packaging and cushioning solutions. It is also the country’s leading recycler of EPS.
“We’ve been preoccupied by the environmental impact of EPS since the 1990s,” confesses Termotécnica’s President, Albano Schmidt. “Initially, our main concern was with general and PAH emissions and we spent a lot of money on research while exchanging information with leading manufacturers in Europe, Asia, and the U.S.” The company is quick to point out that the manufacture and use of EPS causes no environmental harm or health risks. However, in keeping with its corporate philosophy, Termotécnia has always sought to be proactive. As such, in 2006, it launched a pioneering recycling program whereby the EPS packaging it produces is returned, post-consumption, to the company’s various units, where it is compacted, dehydrated, reprocessed, and reused.
Despite challenges that involved logistics and the education of clients and consumers, the company’s efforts have already borne considerable fruits. “We work very closely in conjunction with our distributors,” explains Schmidt. “We’ve concentrated the collecting and compacting at large distribution centers and from there we pick up the packaging and bring it to our plants. Today, we have more than 150 collection points. We’ve structured everything so that the system really functions.”
It functions so well that currently, Tecnomecánica is able to recycle 400 tons a month of packaging, which translates into 30 percent of all the packaging it sells. “Our goal is to recycle 100 percent,” declares Schmidt, pointing out that, in the near future, the company hopes to transform its in-house recycling division into an autonomous business unit that focuses on sustainability. “Our ultimate desire is to solve the problem of EPS recycling in Brazil,” says Schmidt. “Not just the EPS manufactured by us, but by other companies as well. After all, when Styrofoam ends up in the garbage, it doesn’t matter who made it.”
This pioneering spirit is nothing new for a company that was truly an EPS pioneer in Brazil. German chemical giant BASF, who had begun commercializing EPS in Europe in the 1950s, first introduced EPS to Brazil in 1961. At the time, no companies existed in the country that made items out of Styrofoam – and with the goal of filling this enormous, untapped niche, Termotécnica was born. Initially, EPS was used in Brazil for thermal isolation and for food conservation (i.e. storage containers), and in its early years, the company grew substantially by making products for both domestic and professional segments and absorbing their subsequent growth.
In fact, demand for EPS products grew so quickly that by the 1970s, there wasn’t enough primary material in Brazil to meet production requirements. It was at this moment that Termotécnica made the far-sighted decision to invest in the construction of its own plant that would manufacture EPS from scratch, thus enabling the company to supply all its own internal needs. The plant, also located in Joinville, opened in 1979 and represented a major milestone for the company. “The fact that we make our own primary material is very important,” claims Schmidt.
Around the same time it began producing its own EPS, Termotécnica also started manufacturing its own tools. Taking on both of these activities in-house allowed the company to become completely verticalized and to gain a solid position in the marketplace.
Meanwhile, the company is already developing pioneering applications for the future. Among the projects it’s currently working on are ICF (insulated concrete forms), whose usage is very new in Brazil’s construction industry, and cushioning solutions for the automobile industry (including helmets for bikers and motorcyclists). Another interest involves researching ways of making an EPS flammable retardant that can replace the less effective bromine retardants currently in use.
“What really sets us apart in the Brazilian marketplace is our capacity to create complete solutions for our clients and then to carry them out in their totality. We can do this because we dominate every step of the process: from developing projects and manufacturing the primary material to Just-in-Time delivery and, now, collecting and recycling our products,” says Schmidt. And yet, although Termotécnia seems to have everything in place, the company is anything but complacent. “We’re always investing in research, seeking materials that are more sustainable and solutions for better recycling. We never stop working at improving every step of the process because the future of our industry is inextricably linked to a sustainable future.”