Summary of the AQMAT’s interview with Charles Bourbonnais, President and CEO of Polymos

Polymos and Polyform, the Story of Two Families

“It’s a great transaction. We are very proud, and we see it as a great adventure, a continuity in the history of Polyform and Polymos, who are joining forces after 50 years of competition with each other.”

Since the early days of expanded plastics in Quebec, in the 1960s, two ambitious men, artisans and creators, each founded their own company in this flourishing industry while cultivating a friendship and healthy competition: Jean-Louis Béliveau, founder of Polyform, and Marcel Bourbonnais, Charles’ grandfather, who founded Polymos in 1969. “We have a lot of respect for everything that has been accomplished by the Béliveau family and we are very happy to join forces, because our values are very similar: they revolve around people, customers and long-term partners.”

At a time when work was harder to find, it was important for Marcel Bourbonnais to help create jobs in the region. Today, many employees have been with the company for twenty, thirty, even forty years. The values passed down from father to son place people at the heart of the company and encourage teamwork, mutual respect and entrepreneurship. In keeping with this tradition, it is important for Charles Bourbonnais to offer good job security while empowering employees to grow and thrive within the company, by creating value they can be proud of.

The Acquisition of Polyform: An Added Value for Customers

With the acquisition of Polyform, Polymos now has 400 employees working in 7 factories, and can offer its customers more resources to innovate and implement solutions to help them stand out from their competitors. This is a great strength that also allows Polyform to serve its customers with quicker turnaround times, while controlling costs. In the context of this transaction, “one plus one makes three,” says Charles Bourbonnais, and the customers win.

Expanded Plastics Are 100% Recyclable and Sustainable

“In Quebec, we have all the players required to make a circular economy model with polystyrene. The technologies are there, the end use of the recycled products is there, and now we just need to put in place the missing cogs to enable the materials to be collected on a mass scale.”

Environmental protection continues to be an important value for Polymos, which recycles 100% of the expanded plastic used in its internal projects, and seeks to help municipalities collect expanded plastic from citizens in their ecocentres. For example, in 2020, Polymos launched a pilot project with the Vaudreuil-Soulanges RCM to collect polystyrene in the RCM’s four ecocentres.

It is important to remember that expanded plastic is a fully recyclable material composed of 95% air and only 5% material. It is used in applications such as insulating panels, which allow for the construction of more efficient homes that consume less energy while providing more comfort to residents. In addition, insulated panels are a good example of a long-term use where the product continues to perform well over the years. And that is what we want in construction and renovation applications. We want performance, economy, comfort and durability.

Unlike oil, which is burned, expanded plastic does not emit greenhouse gases (GHG) during its life cycle. It can be reused in the same form or recycled several times, and at the end of the product’s life, the material can be recycled in an almost infinite number of ways, while retaining the same properties and performance as the virgin material.

So we need to raise awareness on the choice of materials based on the life cycle analysis, which is really the calculation of the carbon footprint over the whole life of the product. And when we look at these analyses for polystyrene, its footprint is much smaller than that of substitute products. This is why expanded plastic should be a preferred material in a long-term perspective of sustainable development for our children and for future generations.

The Company’s Evolution in the Context of the Pandemic

“I think it has provided a lot of opportunities to make changes, to look at things in a different way, that is going to be beneficial for the future as well.”

As with many companies, the COVID-19 pandemic led Polymos to make many operational changes that have proven beneficial to both the company and its employees. For example, the possibility of working remotely has provided a better work-life balance for employees, while maintaining productivity.

With regard to the pandemic’s impact on the supply chain, the disruption that occurred helped reinforce an already well-established practice at Polymos, which is to buy locally. In fact, the company has the privilege of being serviced by suppliers located mainly in Quebec, including for raw materials. The pandemic was therefore beneficial for the local economy, and Polymos’ products were particularly in demand, especially the containers used for home-delivered meals.

The market for reusable containers made of expanded polypropylene is growing rapidly, as these insulated containers allow the cold chain to be respected for all kinds of products, including pharmaceuticals and food, while absorbing impacts during transportation. Moreover, these properties help reduce food waste in the industry, which represents a significant source of indirect GHG emissions.

Investing in Automation While Keeping People at the Core

“The idea is not to take humans out of the equation, but to bring them to the forefront where they have an opportunity to provide value.”

Polymos is evolving toward greater automation, while maintaining the balance between preserving its fundamental values, which place people at the heart of the company, and incorporating new technologies. Charles Bourbonnais sees this balancing act as a positive tension. It allows the company to take advantage of technological advances to better serve customers by reducing costs and turnaround times, while allowing employees to contribute their full value as humans, rather than doing tasks that are repetitive or present a safety hazard.

In addition, the region’s working-age population is expected to decline between 2020 and 2030, making recruitment more difficult. In this context, automation is necessary to continue to effectively serve customers and meet demand. With automation, Polyform will be able to accommodate the growth of its customers with existing teams, while continuing to offer good job security.

By acquiring Polyform, Polymos has set a new sail to help propel the company to new heights of success. Read our media release to learn more about this recent transaction.