Best Managed Companies 2021

Polykar

One person’s trash bag is another’s $60-million treasure

Every year, Polykar makes about 2 million cases of garbage bags. And every year, fewer than 100 cases are returned. For CEO Amir Karim, quality is king. “The last thing a janitor wants when he’s picking up the garbage is for the bag to be leaking everywhere,” he says. Frustrated customers may cancel their garbage-bag order. And then their janitorial-chemical order. And the toilet-paper order, he explains. All because of a faulty garbage bag. And so Polykar makes sure it has one of the best reputations by crafting plastics that last.

But not forever: diversifying into recycling and compostables has reaped big rewards for the Montreal-based company of 130 employees — Karim has spent the past 20 years turning his garbage-bag family business into a sustainable-packaging powerhouse. When he joined in 2001, Polykar (founded by his parents) was earning $6 million per year. Today, revenues are at $60 million annually, thanks to Polykar’s innovation in the sustainability space. “I came to the conclusion that a traditional garbage-bag business would probably decline over time because people are sending less and less waste to landfills,” says Karim. “So I advocated for the need to diversify.” Big wins for the company include making certified-compostable bags and switching its garbage bags over to recycled materials. “We got into the business of plastics recycling in 2009, way before it was fashionable to do so.” Today, the company is an expert in post-industrial and post-commercial recycling.

Karim sees sustainability as an exciting goal, not a roadblock. “On the face of it, it seems like an industry that faces gigantic challenges related to the environment and sustainability, but at the end of the day, when you actually dig down deep into how to address these issues, I see it as a huge opportunity to develop a whole slew of products that can be reused in the circular economy.” So far, Polykar has won several awards for this work. It has also scored some big-name partners like Winpak and L’Oréal, saving thousands of pounds of plastics from the landfills by recycling these companies’ leftovers into garbage bags and packaging.

Karim has tailored hiring strategies to set Polykar up for future success in the sustainability field as well. Looking at the competitors, says Karim, he has noticed that most of the staff are age 60 and over. “We’re the exact opposite. By design, I hire much younger people. But why would a millennial join a plastics company or a packaging company like Polykar?” he says. “So we spent a lot of time developing the why and telling the story about our sustainability plans and our growth plans so that those who join our organization see themselves as part of the solution to make a better world.”

Together, Polykar’s employees are primed to tackle the issue head-on. “Packaging and plastics aren’t going anywhere but we have to address the issue of post-use, and Polykar is right in the thick of it. It’s an exciting time to be in that industry.”