The plastic bag business is very important in Trent Romer’s life.
He is the third generation owner of Clear View Bag Co. in Albany, NY, and speaks enthusiastically about the history of his family who built the company and the 70 people who work there.
But he had a problem. Society’s concern about plastic waste in the environment really touched him and he felt sorry for it.
“I didn’t think the product we made was great,” he said. “I had my own personal puzzle.”
This dissonance set him on the path to finding different business models, which led him to write a newly published book, Finding Sustainability: The Personal and Professional Journey of a Plastic Bag Manufacturer.
In the book Romer writes about conflict. There is the positive role of plastics in daily life, for example in food protection and medical equipment, and the jobs that it offers in his company.
But Romer, who has been in the bag business for more than 25 years, said he weighed this against the environmental concerns of waste and our “linear mindset with a focus on convenience.”
He said he thought about it a lot when he presented the iconic 2018 cover of National Geographic magazine with a plastic bag shaped like an iceberg as part of the title “Planet or Plastic?” saw. Initiative.
“The June 2018 National Geographic cover really was almost a surreal moment for me, it confirmed everything I thought and it really got me to say, ‘It’s time to do something,'” he said in an interview with Plastics News.
His book describes an ongoing effort to adapt the company’s mission while protecting the livelihoods of employees and their families.
Romer spelled it at the beginning of his introductory chapter.
“What if your family business was threatened by something outside of your control?” he wrote. “What if the reason was actually one that you basically agree with?”
He describes how a life of camping, hiking, and canoeing was a great personal motivation to take the steps, and he returns to outdoor and nature metaphors in the 126-page book.
Romer said his work was not intended to provide a definitive answer for anyone.
“I’m not a scientist, but I feel like I’m trying to bridge this gap between what the science and the facts say and what we as individuals and small business owners can do on a day-to-day basis,” he said. “I’m trying to stay on my track.”
What comes out is a picture of work in progress in a small business.
Some of the details are known to everyone in the spider web of the packaging supply chain. He talks about finding suppliers of alternative materials like recycled plastics or bio-based or compostable resins to get rid of fossil fuels.
He shared about a scouting mission to a supermarket in Amsterdam with plastic-free aisles on a detour from a conference to see if it was a “glimpse into the future”.
There he said he found it “alarming” to see “Plastic Free” logos. And he said he was intrigued by packaging labels that included greenhouse gas emission information, like an environmental version of nutrition labeling, to give consumers more purchasing information.
He has sections on attending conferences with fellow executives, joining the Sustainable Packaging Coalition, and an in-depth look at the Ellen MacArthur Foundation’s New Plastics Economy project to find guidelines relevant to his small business to take can undertake.
“We’re a 70-person company, we qualify as a small manufacturer,” said Romer. “For the longest time I thought, ‘What are we going to do?'”