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Atlas Paper

This company was green way before it was cool

By Joseph A. Mann, Jr.

STORY TOOLS

Miami-based Atlas Paper Mills was recycling long before most companies began to worry about making their businesses green and sustainable.

Founded more than 30 years ago and working in an industry traditionally ranked as one of the biggest industrial polluters, Atlas makes its products—bathroom tissue, kitchen towels and facial tissues—from 100 percent recycled waste paper and sells them under its Green Heritage brand to wholesale paper distributors. The company produces about 36,000 tons per year of base paper, which is converted into toilet tissue.

“We are the best-kept environmental secret in the state of Florida,” says Joseph A. Tadeo,  president and CEO of privately owned Atlas, which has about 190 employees at two Miami locations: the paper mill in Hialeah and administrative offices plus a warehouse in northwest Miami. The company, which also sells private label paper products, has never cut down a tree to make its products, noted Tadeo, who held executive positions at Scott Paper Co. and Jarden Consumer Solutions before taking over the top job at Atlas in 2009.

Atlas’s use of waste paper from offices, schools, print shops and other sources not only saves trees, but saves landfill space and the large volumes of water and energy used in the traditional papermaking process, he adds. In addition, Atlas recycles and reuses water for its own papermaking, uses no chlorine and applies eco-friendly, non-toxic enzymes in making its products.
And recycling makes a difference. If each household in the United States replaced one roll of toilet paper (500 sheets) made from virgin fiber (trees) with a roll of 100 percent recycled paper, nearly 424,000 trees could be saved, according to the National Resources Defense Council.

Why was Atlas “born green,” as Tadeo says? Atlas was founded by a Cuban immigrant, Remberto Bastanzuri, who came to Miami in 1979. Bastanzuri had worked in Cuba’s paper industry and there used bagasse (from sugar cane) and recycled paper as raw materials, mainly because they were low-cost. When Bastanzuri started Atlas in Miami in 1981 he turned to what he knew best: utilizing waste paper to produce toilet tissue for large commercial and institutional customers.

In 2006, Atlas was taken over by private equity firm Palm Beach Capital. Since then, Atlas has continued using only recycled paper as its main raw material and in 2009 made significant improvements, which included changing the recipe for recycled paper (using more sorted waste paper from offices, which produces higher quality paper), acquiring new embossing equipment for the converting machines and ensuring product consistency.

The papermaking process at Atlas operates 24 hours a day, 365 days a year and requires three steps:

• Obtaining waste paper and making it into a pulp: Atlas originally used its own personnel to collect paper, but in 2010, the company contracted an international recycling firm, Elof Hansson, to collect, sort and deliver “a specific mix” of waste paper that provides the company with higher quality fiber, Tadeo says. A byproduct of this step is recycled into an agricultural lime substitute that is used in combination with fertilizers.

• The liquid pulp then goes to one of Atlas’s papermaking machines to produce large rolls of base paper.

• Conversion machines make the base paper into specific products.

Atlas makes products for the “away from home” market, which includes factories, schools, hotels and offices, as opposed to the “in home” market, Tadeo says. It also produces some lines for retail outlets and restaurants.

The company sells to paper product distributors all over the United States, who in turn sell to end users like Delta Airlines. In South Florida, some of Atlas’s customers are Cosgrove Enterprises, Unisource, DadePaper and Xpedx. “The fact that we use 100 percent recycled paper is an important selling point,” Tadeo says.

Many companies want to be environmentally responsible and look for producers of recycled paper, Tadeo adds. The company did not want to release pricing data but maintains that its products are very competitive in the recycled paper market. “Our whole position is value green. We like to position ourselves as below the competition for selling green certified products.”

While Atlas saw sales decline and laid off personnel during the recession, unit sales have averaged over 10 percent growth annually since 2009. “In 2012, we’re looking for about 7 percent growth, which isn’t bad in this economy,” Tadeo says.

In 2009, Atlas became the only Green Seal certified manufacturer of tissue and paper products in Florida. Green Seal is an independent organization that sets strict sustainability standards for products, services and companies. And in 2010, after competing with some of Florida’s largest companies, Atlas won the sustainable Florida Best Practices award for large businesses, sponsored by the Collins Center for Public Policy.

In a highly competitive market, Atlas’s products offer highly acceptable quality and value pricing, Tadeo says, along with the advantage of being green and environmentally sound. “You don’t have to pay more to go green.”•

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