NOVEMBER 2011

A Closer Look E-mail the author

Hosokawa Polymer Systems
Jack Bowne • 800-233-6112

Jack Bowne

“Plastics, young man; plastics.” That line from the 1967 movie, The Graduate, held special significance to Jack Bowne, vice president of sales and marketing of Hosokawa Polymer Systems. When that movie came out, he was working in the electronics industry, but by 1968, he had started working for a company that had both an electronics division and a plastics division.

“I didn’t see the movie until 1968,” he said. And while he was working for the electronics division when he first started with the company, it wasn’t long before he was working for the plastics division. The movie seemed to be prophetic.

At that time, the company he worked for was importing and reselling granulation equipment, but by the mid-70s it started manufacturing its own equipment. That company was sold several times, until it finally became Hosokawa Polymer Systems. Bowne stayed with the company through all of those changes.

These days, not only does the company manufacture granulation systems, but it also engineers complete systems for recovering and recycling plastics.

Bowne said that the biggest part of the business is working with industrial recycling, where manufacturers pelletize and reuse their own materials. “They can put it right back into the manufacturing,” Bowne said.

In the film industry – the manufacture of plastic grocery bags, dry cleaning bags, and similar thin plastics – Bowne said there was “a tremendous amount” of material that can be reused within the plant.

Back when Bowne started in the business, plastic was not as ubiquitous as it is today. “You touch plastic all day long,” he said, from plastic bottles to plastic pipes for water in your house to food packaging, blister packaging, meat and frozen food packaging. And none of that existed when Bowne first started in the industry.

“Think of the medical industry,” he said, where not only is plastic used for equipment, but plastic lenses are used for cataract patients.

In the automotive industry, gas tanks in cars are now plastic, after years of being made from steel and then aluminum. Car bumpers are plastic rather than steel. None of that was true when Bowne was watching The Graduate and beginning his career in the industry.

Bowne said that one of the more interesting projects was for a manufacturer of blow-molded gas tanks. “We have to take this plastic in a hot form and granulate it while it’s still almost molten,” he said. Besides being hot, there’s a lot of it – about 4,000 pounds per hour.

Besides granulating the plastic, the process also includes removing any metal fittings or other foreign material that would contaminate the plastic and potentially damage the granulating machinery.

Another big change Bowne has seen has been the increase in post-consumer recycling, but he noted that “we, as a county, are very poor at it,” and that European countries are generally better at recycling. Here, a lot of plastic end up at landfills or is used as a fuel source. “It’s not recycled back into a product again, but it could be,” he said.

Some plastic recycling is difficult because of the costs involved. “It has to become economically feasible, so the recycled is less money than the virgin material,” he said. In some states, bottle bills keep plastic bottles out of landfills because consumers want to get their deposits back. “But we don’t take it all the way,” he said. “It’s foolish.” While recycling has increased, Bowne is disappointed that disposal has also increased. Back when he was growing up, “you bought a radio, you bought a television, you would fix it,” he said. “Now, you throw it away. There is more in the trash stream and in the recycling stream.”

That attitude extends to manufacturing, Bowne said. Companies used to buy machinery and keep it running for 20 or 30 years. Now, “people buy a lesser machine and they know they can dispose of it in a few years.”

After many years in the industry, Bowne said, “It’s been fun. It used to be more fun.” He made a lot of relationships over the years with customers. “I loved working with different people over the years,” he said. “I’ve been all around the world selling our products.” But now, there are a lot more hassles involved in traveling, which makes it a little less appealing. “It was a joy to travel years ago.”

But still, he enjoyed his 43 years with the business as it grew, and he enjoyed being involved in so many different aspects of the business, from his position in sales and marketing. Because, he said, “The title may be one thing, but the involvement is different.”