Weisenbach Walks the Green Talk

Even a simple question can prompt a verbose response from Dan Weisenbach.

“What’s your title at Weisenbach Recycled Products?” I ask.

“Technically, my title is president of the corporation. In actuality, we’re not real big on titles in our company and each of the staff members takes on many roles; it’s quite dynamic really. Aside from just running the business, I am also responsible for inventing and developing new products and building the processes to manufacture and imprint. That’s the job I really enjoy.”

Answers like that make for long phone calls, but great interviews (in my opinion, anyway).

“Thanks, Dan. It was great to hear about all the interesting stuff you do,” I say at the end of our 40-minute chat.

“Thanks for calling. This was fun,” he replies. “And don’t forget.”

“Don’t forget what?”

“Recycling is cool.”

Indeed.

Read on to learn about all that “interesting stuff”, as well as what drove Weisenbach to start his own business and why he thinks being a green company involves more than hawking environmentally-friendly products or using energy-efficient light bulbs.

Melanie McIntyre: When was Weisenbach Recycled Products started and what inspired you to start the business?

Dan Weisenbach: The business really started as an attempt for me to pay my college tuition. I was an Ohio State University student trying to make some money for tuition. I probably shouldn’t mention this, but I used my student loan to buy a button machine and made money selling badges to campus bars and rock bands.

In designing logos and getting prints for my buttons, I saw a niche for some less common types of printing. I transferred to Columbus Technical Institute, now known as Columbus State, and enrolled in graphic communications. That’s when my enthusiasm for printing and manufacturing really took hold. About the same time, my father was looking to change careers in the aftermath of the Jimmy Carter recession. My dad caught me at an optimistic moment and asked if I was interested in starting a printing business. So in December 1981, my parents and I opened up a shop on High Street downtown.

We gained a reputation for printing items that other shops couldn’t do, which was a natural lead-in to the promotional products business. A good direction for us, as our first business loan was at 21.75 percent. We paid it off a year early. I guess we started as a printer that recycles and now we’re more of a recycler that prints. That’s why we modified our company name a few years ago from “Weisenbach Specialty Printing” to “Weisenbach Recycled Products.”

In 1986, when green was still just the color of underripe bananas, we started selling recycled plastic promotional products, like rulers, flyswatters, and a funnel that snapped on an oil can. Remember when oil came in a can? We pushed those items as a bargain −for a penny less than “virgin plastic”− and the only color was black.

By 1989, we made a decision to stock recycled papers as our “house sheets” and we converted to soy inks on our offset printing presses. We also found soy-based solvents to clean the presses because it was healthier for our employees and better for the wastewater system. Our customers were often unaware of those things. We did it because it fit in with our philosophy. Good for the environment and good for people. A lot of the initiatives we’ve done cost more, but it made for a great place to work and we slept better.

MM: Why did you launch RecycledProducts.com in 2004?

DW: When RecycledProducts.com went online in 2004, it immediately became a product reference for the industry by illustrating the possibilities of recycled materials. Our intention was just to provide a great way for customers to see our products.

MM: What does the website offer?

DW: Regarding our website, I would have to say websites plural. Our main site is RecycledProducts.com. It’s primarily an online showcase of our products that we  customize for promotions and awareness, as well as our line of recycled glass awards. Additionally, we have an ecommerce site at RecyclingIsCool.com, which is our store for stock items and retail products.

A couple of my passions are protecting wildlife and promoting litter prevention. Last year, we created a unique recycling program for nature centers, museums, zoos, and aquariums with an educational message for wildlife protection and litter prevention awareness. Our website titled “Caps Can Do” is all about recycling the plastic caps from beverages and other bottles, which are not normally recycled, and coupling that with the message that caps can do harmful things if discarded in our environment. But caps can do great things when we recycle the plastic into our pollution prevention products.

Our FitFill.com site features our line of funnels and spouts to help folks pour hazardous liquids without spilling. So they help protect both wildlife and our water quality by preventing chemicals from poisoning animals or contaminating groundwater, lakes, and rivers.

Oh, and I almost forgot. Check out PaperOnAStick.com for our hand fans printed with soy ink on custom-made recycled paperboard with an FSC wooden handle− fun stuff.

MM: In addition to offering recycled products and environmentally preferable items, Weisenbach also prints, custom molds, assembles, and manufactures recycled products from various materials. What kinds of products and from which materials?

DW: Well, everything we do now is from recycled material. In addition to what I’ve already mentioned, we own a few dozen injection molds for making recycled plastic products for office, school, home, garden, and garage. We produce beautiful awards and trophies from recycled glass, certificate frames from computer circuit boards, and a few items, like coasters and key tags, from recycled tire rubber. We’re also a huge supplier of pens and pencils− all made of recycled fibers and plastic.

MM: What do you consider some of Weisenbach’s biggest accomplishments?

DW: Wow, I guess being the first to do something new. When we printed our first catalog of all recycled products in 1991, there was just no one else doing that. The catalog really opened some doors for us, like partnering with the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania to produce the world’s first tire-rubber mouse pads.

One of the most memorable opportunities was a call from Stonyfield Farms. They wanted to use their own waste to make a product and print their advertising on it. We took in three pallets of polypropylene No. 5 yogurt cups and made 32,000 ice cream scoops. Then, we printed “Made from Stonyfield Yogurt Cups” on the handle and sold the whole lot back to them.

Stonyfield’s next challenge was tougher when they delivered a truckload of polystyrene package trim with metalized polyester film attached. We had to grind and blend the material and, after testing, designed a flower pot mold to specifically work with this recycled poly-mix plastic. We ended up molding over 300,000 flower pots for them. You can see that story on our YouTube channel.  It remains a great example of how using Waste As Raw Material, or WARM Manufacturing as I named it,  just makes sense.

MM: Have you noticed an increase in demand for recycled products?

DW: We noticed a big increase back in 1994. After spending three years sending out samples and doing lots of direct mail advertising, we saw a big uptick in sales that year. We’ve had a few surges and dips since then; 2008 was really good.

MM: What do you predict for the business of recycling going forward?

DW: We sure plan on there being an even bigger demand going forward. We’re ready for more business! But seriously, I think businesses are finally catching on to view waste as a potential resource instead of garbage that needs hauled away and burned or buried. If they can utilize what they used to throw out by sending it to us to make new marketable products, or recycle it in some other way, then we will all be much better off.

MM: Is there anything else I should know?

DW: Just that it is so important to know that being a “green” company means so much more than just offering an environmental product or switching to a different kind of light bulb. It carries a responsibility in all phases of the company− from picking up litter on your property and recycling all your scrap to taking care of your employees and volunteering in your community. Oh, and recycling is great, but you also have to “buy recycled.” You can help us have a sustainable business when you buy our products. That’s important, too− that being a green business isn’t some kind of magic for business success. All the other rules of business still apply.