By summer's end, MicroGREEN will have quadrupled its production capacity to 2 million fully-recyclable InCycle hot cups a day, thanks to investments from two tribes. But CEO Tom Malone had something else on his mind the day Indian Country Today Media Network talked with him.
"There was a terrible disaster here over the weekend. A huge mudslide claimed the lives of eight people [now more than 20; almost 100 remain missing]. For the little town of Arlington [Washington, where MicroGREEN is headquartered] the thing I know is that being an employer where people can get jobs and be able to invest that income back into the communities is a really important role that we can play to help this community recover at a time like this," says Malone.
Shawn Yanity, chairman of the Stillaguamish Tribe, says, “We are pleased that our investment in this young company has resulted in creating more than 100 jobs in our local community." MicroGREEN now employs 127 people, according to Malone.
The Stillaquamish Tribe and the Confederated Tribes of the Grand Ronde made MicroGREEN's $10-million expansion possible. "Their investments have enabled us to buy equipment that will allow us to re-extrude [recycled plastic into the plastic sheets from which InCycle cups are manufactured]. It is because they are stewards of the environment just like we are that the tribes have invested. The Stillaquamish Tribe representative we first worked with said to us that they were attracted to us because we were doing the right thing for the environment and that's continued to be true."
Titu Asghar, director of economic development for the Confederated Tribes of Grand Ronde, says, "We believe in the technology and we believe in management of the company. Based on the demand for the product we see the only way for MicroGREEN to move forward is to gear up and get more machines in house so they can make more products. We gave them … $8 million so they can produce at a cheaper cost."
Three airlines—Alaska Airlines, Allegiant Air and Virgin America—are using InCycle cups on board their planes. United Airlines plans to replace their polystyrene foam cups with InCycle cups on flights beginning in April. Other airlines are in talks with MicroGREEN. Malone says 60 percent of new production capacity is already spoken for.
Alaska Airlines Director of Onboard Food and Beverages Lisa Luchau says her company is also talking with MicroGREEN about other products. "Our cold cup is made out of plastic so we're talking to them about that. We use a number of items to board food or beverage for pilots and for our buy-on-board program. There are a number of things we could use MicroGREEN products for."
MicroGREEN not only uses recycled PET to manufacture its hot cups, but it is working on buying back from recyclers the plastic pellets produced from its recycled products and turning those into another round of cups, using their new extruder equipment in the process. Says Malone, "Plastic is unusual in the sense that if it is handled correctly it can be used over and over, just melted and reformed again. It's unlike paper, which has only has a few useful lives before the fibers are chopped down too small to be able to be reused. It's our mission to recover all those cups that we sold to Alaska [Airlines] and reproduce them and sell them back to them again."
Luchau says using MicroGREEN's cups actually helps the airline's bottom line. "When we started recycling five years ago it was pretty hard to find products that were even cost-neutral. We had moved to a recyclable double-wall paper cup, but it was sourced in China. So once MicroGREEN came to us it was very clearly the direction we needed to go. It ended up being a less expensive cup for us and as you can imagine we go through a lot of coffee cups."
But for MicroGREEN there's even more to being a responsible business than producing eco-friendly products and creating jobs. Malone says, "We also reached out over the weekend to the people we know in the [Arlington] community, including the Stillaquamish Tribe, and offered to reshelter them if they needed. Our employees all got together and counted how much space we could offer to people until they got back on their feet."