A Brief History
Founded by Alan La Fiura in 1974, Ultra-Poly Corporation began with one production line located in a basement in Newark, New Jersey. The company produced less than 4.1 million pounds of recycled plastic resin and had sales of $360,000 in its first year. The company has grown dramatically since then, Annual sales have topped $50,000,000, and with three modern plants producing over 150 million pounds per year, Ultra-Poly is currently among the largest US plastic recyclers in terms of production output.
The Original Model: Toll Processing
Initially, Ultra-Poly focused exclusively on toll processing PE scrap for film manufacturers located close-by in Northern New Jersey and New York City. Essentially a service, toll processing remains a core business for the Company today and it still represents roughly 50% of plant output. After taking delivery of a customer’s scrap, Ultra-Poly re-pelletizes and repackages the plastic, and sends it back to the customer. Ultra-Poly never technically owns the material it runs for toll customers. Thus, the Company carefully monitors toll loads throughout the process because the customer must get back exactly what they sent. Incoming and outgoing weights must match, and inadvertently adding other plastics will compromise that load’s original characteristics.
Ultra-Poly performed an important job for its early toll customers. Instead of landfilling scrap, which many of Ultra-Poly’s original customers actually did, they could now reuse the material. Since their output remained constant, manufacturers could substitute virgin material with much cheaper reclaim. Thus, by using Ultra-Poly’s toll service manufacturers not only reduced raw material costs, but also saved in garbage hauling fees.
The Next Step: Compounded Resins
A new business model arose in the late 70’s when Ultra-Poly began buying manufacturers’ excess scrap outright. Without the obligation to return the material, Ultra-Poly reprocessed and sold the resin as proprietary product called “1000” to companies that could absorb higher reclaim levels. More importantly, the new model allowed Ultra-Poly to begin supplying custom compounds. Management speculatively purchased a wide range of materials from manufacturers in different industries, established a large inventory of different scraps, and developed the ability to produce plastic that met exact specifications by mixing scraps together. Thus, a customer could order “10-melt polypropylene” and Ultra-Poly could make it, even if there is no 10-melt PP scrap in stock. To do so, the plant blended available materials, say a 5-melt and 20-melt PP scrap, at a specific ratio to yield the necessary 10-melt PP.
Ultra-Poly has honed this capability over time, and blends’ complexity has steadily increased. Today, the Company can mix multiple scraps with different properties to yield products that meet precise melt index, strength, flexibility, and coloring specifications. Moreover, the Company can produce the same product using different scraps, simply by altering the blend. This key innovation allowed Ultra-Poly to offer a viable, low-cost substitute for many virgin plastics on a consistent basis, even without a consistent scrap supply.
The Move to Contract Manufacturing
More recently, Ultra-Poly has leveraged its technical expertise to move into manufacturing finished products. Using a proprietary extrusion molding process, the Company currently produces about 75,000 railroad ties and structural products annually from 100% recycled plastic. The move into manufacturing finished goods, together with the associated challenges, necessitated greater process control and quality monitoring. As a result, Ultra-Poly has become a more sophisticated, vertically integrated, and diversified organization than ever before.