Green Paper Products is ready to grow – Crain's Cleveland Business

Green Paper Products carries disposable hot and cold cups sized for everything from coffee and wine to ice cream, as well as tasting spoons and clear cups made from corn, with everything being compostable.
Green Paper Products is ready to grow: The Highland Heights distributor of eco-friendly food-service products aims for a ‘zero-waste cycle’ in which its plant-based wares are composted into soil additives and fertilizer for growing more plants. The model seems to be working, as the company is set to add employees and more than double its Alpha Park space.

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Sugarcane bagasse, wheat straw, miscanthus grass and corn sound like the ingredients to an edgy new restaurant’s five-course meal, but they’re actually the integral materials used in making the Earth-friendly, compostable food-service products sold throughout the country by Green Paper Products of Highland Heights.
Founders Steve Saks and Harry Goodfriend started the e-commerce distribution company in April 2009. “We sell the alternative to styrofoam and other single-use products,” Saks said. “Styrofoam is difficult to recycle and in breaking down, it gets into the water supply. Our products are made from plant materials like sugarcane bagasse — a fibrous stalk byproduct of sugarcane refining — that can be composted into soil additives and fertilizer for growing more plants.”
Saks and Goodfriend met in the fourth grade at Hawken School, roomed together at Northwestern University and then went on to separate careers, Saks as a dentist, Goodfriend in the business of envelopes and other paper products. Saks retired from his dental practice in 2002, then worked in his father’s real estate company until Goodfriend suggested they do something together.
The two friends decided to create an eco-friendly e-commerce business. Things fell into place as they discovered that importers were bringing in biodegradable food-service containers of all types. Most of the products are produced in China and elsewhere in Asia — some made from corn grown in the United States. They also found compostable trash bags being made in South Dakota. Green Paper buys from the U.S. importers throughout the country that help design the products with the Asian manufacturers.
“Some of the paper products are made from plant-based pulp, formed into shapes; after the moisture is extruded, they hold their shape. It’s similar to the papermaking process,” said Saks. “Corn is used to make the clear plastic items like cold beverage cups, bowls and other containers. It’s called polylactic acid, or PLA.”
Saks noted that one of the largest producers of sugarcane bagasse is in Palm Beach County, Fla. “There is some back-and-forth in the process as plant material is shipped to China, then the finished products are shipped back,” he said.
Green Paper Products sells to individuals and businesses, restaurants, caterers, schools, churches, special events and more. They offer just about everything, from cold cups in every size, hot cups with lids, clamshell containers, cutlery, plates, bowls, straws, trays and trash bags.
It’s all mostly made with plant materials along with a few recycled materials. Everything they sell, except for a few lids, is compostable. The prices, Saks said, can be 20% to 30% higher than styrofoam products, but the benefit to the environment makes it worthwhile.
Steve Saks, left, and Harry Goodfriend are the co-founders of Green Paper Products in Highland Heights.
Saks added that this is only one piece of the puzzle going forward, that the compostables industry is still in its infancy. “The way that society is, at least in the U.S., we use a lot of single-use disposables and we have to get away from that. If we can’t, then we need to use disposables that can turn back into plant material to grow more plants to make more disposables. It’s a zero-waste cycle. Between climate change and the amount of trash, the Earth won’t be able to sustain a one-way route. Composting is the trend of the future and it doesn’t create greenhouse gases like landfills do.”
The statistics are staggering. According to EarthDay.org:
“We have grandchildren,” said Saks. “We’re trying to make a difference. The supply of products is built out. You can buy it in huge quantities, but the composting part is not yet built out as much as I wish it was. We can only control so much.” Saks added he believes more will happen in the move toward more and better composting facilities in this country when laws and mandates make it necessary.
“It’s not just us selling this stuff, it’s not just people using this stuff, it’s not just people separating it out, but then once it’s separated it has to go to a facility to be composted and the resulting fertilizer needs to be sold back to the farmers that will use it to grow more plants. Then you have the cycle,” he said.
For their part, the company seems to be on the right track. Saks reported their growth has averaged 20% to 30% year over year in sales; last year, they saw 50% growth. “We’re a privately held company, but our gross sales last year were just under $6 million,” he said. “We’re very excited about it. It’s a good business and we sell good products that people like.”
Green Paper Products’ Alpha Park facility is expanding. Right now, the two partners and their five employees occupy 4,500 square feet of space. They’ll grow into a 10,500-square-foot space and add a customer service person. Saks added that his son, Aaron, a chemical engineer, is moving his family back to Cleveland to learn the business as the new general manager.
Saks, who says there would be no company without Goodfriend’s brains and experience, said he is also grateful for their excellent employees. “One thing very important to us as business owners is the morale,” he said. He also credited Jan Limpach of Key Phrase Marketing in Elyria, who has been with them since day one, and Argent Web Design and Development of North Canton.
Green Paper Products are available online at greenpaperproducts.com with free shipping for orders over $89 and volume discounts. “We also do some email marketing with special offers, but we don’t hound customers — we only do it once or twice a month at the most,” Saks said. “Also, we’ve been stocking up as much product as we can get ahold of in case the coronavirus temporarily closes some factories in China. We want to be able to fill all of our orders.”
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