06/16/2010 06:13

Israel is gaining a reputation for clean-tech innovation.

Israel is gaining a reputation for clean-tech innovation, and Yossef Heyman hopes to make that a reality in yet another field – produce packaging.

“One-point-five billion packaging boxes are in use around the world, mostly those made of wood, heavy plastic or cardboard,” Heyman, a 30-year veteran of the packaging industry in Israel, told The Jerusalem Post this week during an interview.

Wood and cardboard containers use up lots of trees, while the plastic ones are heavy, Heyman pointed out.

“For every 5 kilograms of peppers that are transported, it’s about 300 grams of a tree [to build the box for them],” he said. What’s more, wood and cardboard cartons have no resale value as containers after their one-time use.

Instead, Heyman and his company have developed the Eco-Pack system. The idea is deceptively simple: A lightweight plastic frame is fitted with two plastic sleeves. The frames come in standard sizes, but can also be produced to specific measurements for a bulk order, Heyman said.

The Eco-Pack system has a few advantages over the competition, according to its creator.

First, it can be reused; Heyman said his company would always be interested in repurchasing used boxes to resell to other customers. Second, it can be totally recycled, as both the plastic frame and the sleeves can be remade into more Eco-Pack containers or any other plastic object. Third, because it doesn’t have sides, it takes up significantly less space in cargo holds than other types of crates, which translates into significant savings on shipping costs, Heyman explained.

Moreover, it costs less in terms of materials, energy and water to produce since it is a frame and plastic sleeves instead of a four-sided container.

Replacing the sleeves also means the crate doesn’t need to be washed. The sleeves can be customdesigned with a company’s logo and information.

Heyman said his products cost about the same as or less than cardboard shipping boxes, depending on the quantity ordered.

The business model includes setting up partnerships in countries all over the world to produce the boxes, rather than making them in Israel and shipping them abroad.

The company has already set up subsidiaries in Italy, England and Holland, and Heyman will travel to Cyprus later this week to set up another.

Next week, he’ll be in South Africa to set up the collection center in Cape Town.

Heyman already has business relationships with 12 Israeli exporters.

The company was formed two-and-a-half years ago, but only recently completed testing and creating its business plan. So far, 100,000 Eco-Packs have been sold.

While interest around the world has been high, Heyman admitted that getting companies to adopt a new product was not easy.

“Some companies come back after trying some out, and some don’t. A change in thinking is needed in order to embrace the Eco-Pack process, and companies are notoriously conservative,” he said.

Some modifications to plants’ conveyor belts, from uncovered rollers to a belt system, are sometimes needed, which means the company must appreciate the savings the product can bring in order to invest in its use, Heyman added.

As a sign of the changing times and rising global environmental awareness, Heyman actually invented the basic product 13 years ago, but had to shelve it for lack of interest.

“At that time, no one knew what to do with it, so I put it back in the basement and revived it a few years ago,” he said