Ben Markens has been president of the Paperboard Packaging Council (PPC), the trade association for folding carton companies since 2008. Before joining PPC, he had spent most of his adult life in folding cartons, working in converting companies, including as a plant manager and vice president of operations. In 1988, he founded a consulting practice niched to folding cartons, consulting on matters of costing, throughput, operations and strategy.
PostPress recently sat down with Markens to further discuss his knowledge of the industry, the PPC and his predictions for the road ahead.
What is the Paperboard Packaging Council’s mission?
PPC’s mission is twofold. First, we are the voice of the paperboard industry to stakeholders – regulatory, retailers and media, like PostPress.
The second part of the mission is to help our members stay competitive by providing tools and resources – such as data, meetings and forums – as well as access to suppliers of state-of-the-art technology.
What specific programs has PPC established to promote the industry and help its members?
Our association provides programs to support members in all areas relating to the packaging industry.
For example, our benchmarking studies look at throughput, labor, benefits, financial condition and much more. Because we have strong participation numbers, we can provide high levels of detail while maintaining the anonymity of our members. These pro-competitive materials also are regularly reviewed by PPC legal counsel to ensure compliance with the law.
We have many communities of interest that meet regularly and support one another: operations, financial, human resources, new leaders, women leaders, rigid box makers, Canadians and more.
We hold two general meetings each year highlighting speakers and programs to make our members better leaders and keep them abreast of industry developments.
We have a robust supplier community that helps our members solve technical problems and provides access to the latest technology available.
Our annual carton competition is our equivalent of the Oscars. Members get to showcase their work with beauty, sustainability and innovation, raising our members while inspiring others to continue pushing our industry forward.
Trees into Cartons, Cartons into Trees (TICCIT®) is an outreach program that teaches grade-school children about the benefits of paper-based packaging compared to other non-renewable and non-recyclable substrates, like plastic. Members go to their children’s schools to teach a lesson that complies with national learning standards and is a day of fun for the students. For the member company, this is a triple winner: employee engagement, community engagement and telling our story.
What are some challenges facing the industry, especially in light of the current pandemic?
Our industry has had, and continues to have, problems recruiting and retaining high performers. Manufacturing often is hard work and is not considered as sexy as tech and other service industries.
The truth is that we are a dynamic and exciting business that creates the means to get products to market. This has never been more evident and essential since the shutdowns began in mid-March and the race started to keep the grocery shelves filled.
With more consumers focusing on sustainability, what are the opportunities for paperboard packaging now and in the next few years?
Paperboard is either renewable (made from trees that we planted) or recycled. Boxboard fibers can be recycled many times if consumers treat them well and dispose of them properly by putting them in the blue recycling bins. Recycling rates are quite high, and the Federal Trade Commission allows us to call folding cartons recyclable. This claim, recyclable, is one that no (or almost no) plastic package legally can make.
What are some of the challenges that new emphasis on sustainability brings to paperboard packaging manufacturers?
Currently, our biggest challenge is getting the message out about our sustainability profile. We could do a better job telling our story.
What industries do you see as growth potentials for folding cartons/paperboard packaging in the near future?
Cannabis, convenience store, beverage, pharma and food remain strong end-uses for folding cartons.