Storage bins get green appeal

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FEW industries attract the attention of environmentalists more than packaging. The people who make the things that contain the products we buy are under attack for the type and amount of materials they use and the fact that many of these containers are unsuitable for either recycling or repeated use.

With such pressures mounting, Matcon, a Gloucestershire-based builder of storage systems for all types of powders, from foodstuffs to pharmaceuticals, believes it has found the answer. Late last month it added a new container to its range in an effort to provide packaging that is "reusable, recycleable and economically viable".

Its managing director, Ivan Semenenko, an exiled East European who founded Matcon in 1980, believes that the innovation gives his company a good chance of getting a "large chunk" of a worldwide packaging market worth up to $100bn (pounds 63bn) a year.

Rather than a completely new product, it is based on the valve technology behind the company's storage systems. This concept itself is even older, having been invented in the United States 30 years ago. What Matcon has done, says Mr Semenenko, is come up with "a better mousetrap".

Essentially, it allows materials that must be free of contamination to be loaded and unloaded without coming into contact with people or the air. The company has also developed complementary products to assist with such tasks as washing and handling.

Matcon, which has three companies - in Britain, France and the US - plus many licensees around the globe, has grown to be the world leader in its field. Last year group sales were pounds l2bn, and this year they are expected to be nearly double that, at pounds 20m. It employs 84 people directly, with another 200 working for subcontractors.

Mr Semenenko, an engineer/designer who has developed many of the company's new products himself, insists that environmentally acceptable packaging becomes of interest to clients only if the price is right. For that reason his team has made changes to the storage bins that have been supplied to such clients as Nestle and ICI which not only make them more suitable for transporting about, but also cheaper. While the basic static container sells for pounds 43,000 to pounds 410,000, a moveable one can cost as little as pounds 1,000.

Not that the company stands to lose out. As Mr Semenenko acknowledges, "it's a way to get clients to use our bins in the distribution chain".

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