A thrifty green brand called Marcal
Marcal Paper Mills Inc, sticking to its traditional, bottom-line style of management, has developed a recycling process that enables it to turn junk mail into toilet paper. The company's trucks, empty after making supermarket deliveries on Long Island, New York, now swing by Long Island post offices and load up with undeliverable third-class mail. Even though these items may contain such nuisances as cellophane windows and gummed paper, Marcal's recycling process allows it to make an environmentally sensitive product.
Nick Marcalus is not the sort of guy who spends his days worrying about highpriced green marketingconsultants. Marcal Paper Mills of Elmwood Park, N.J., the third-generation paper towel and toilettissue company that Marcalus runs with his family, has always kept its own homespun counsel on the weightier issues of the day. Let the competition at mighty Procter & Gamble and Kimberly-Clark spend their millions studying enviro issues to death. Marcal just does it.
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Last week the New York media was abuzz with a typical Marcal coup. The central post office serving suburban Long Island, some of the most concentrated junk mail country known to man, announced that it would be unloading its undelivered third-class mail on Marcal, which, in turn, will process the coated envelopes and four-color pitches into toilet paper. At a time when tree-huggers are routinely lambasting the paper industry on environmental grounds, Marcal won green kudos in one of its largest markets.
The venture began innocently enough, as ventures usually do at Marcal. At a recycling conference last year, a Marcal executive heard a Long Island postal official plead for relief from the tons of undeliverable junk mail that Long Island is swamped with every . month. A quick visit to Nick's office at Marcal won approval for a spring 1991 test involving the overflow from 18 Long Island post offices. The test allowed Marcal to prove new technology that permits its plants to recycle such annoying add-ons as glassine envelope windows and gummed paper. That test was expanded to the status of a full-blown program last week, when the postal service announced that the company would now be accepting excess junk mail from 175 Long Island post offices.
Marcal has used recycled paper in its finished products for years, a practice driven more by economy than environmental concern. The Long Island project only reinforces that strategy. Before the Long Island test, Marcal trucks made their deliveries of paper products to Long Island supermarkets, wasting gas as they ran back to the New Jersey plant empty. Now the trucks will stop on their return trips for baled junk mail, using that same gas to deliver raw material to the plant.
And talk about "closed-loop" efficiency. The hauling arrangement will save the postal service on Long Island some $500,000 a year. A similar deal with the Manhattan post office is in the works.
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Marcalus' grandfather founded Marcal 60 years ago. His son, Robert Marcalus, is now chairman. Nick, 48, runs the business as president.
Marcal initially shied away from promoting the recycled content of its paper products. But that began to change about five years ago as consumer acceptance grew.
"We didn't talk about recycling at first," says Marcalus. "Our large national competitors--who still use virgin pulp--belittled our line, telling buyers that Marcal was inferior because [our products] were made from recycled paper. We were able to prove there was no difference. Now consumers look for the recycling label and really appreciate us for it."
Marcalus, however, has no intention of following the giants down the road of spurious green claims. For all the free publicity the company is receiving, the junk mail pickup is basically an economy move.
"We spent a long time building our niche, and it's not as a recycled product," he says. "Recycling is nice, but it's topspin to our real marketing message as a value product."