Gloved up, sustainably

Steve Ardagh, Eagle inspecting glove lines in Thailand.
Steve Ardagh of Eagle Consumables with the general manager of the glove plant in Thailand inspecting one of the glove lines. Pictured are the ceramic formers, which are about to enter the nitrile dipping tank.

A common, but possibly little thought about, collection of items is playing its part to help New Zealand meat companies keep ahead sustainably.

Disposable nitrile rubber gloves and other plastic consumables play their part in maintaining the meat industry’s stringent hygiene standards but, as they’re single use, the items potentially present issues as they head towards landfill. However, one New Zealand-owned company is paying attention to the detail and doing what it can to make its consumables as environmentally-friendly and ethically produced as possible, adding value to the meat industry’s proposition for its customers around the world..

Christchurch-based Eagle Consumables was set up eight years ago by chief executive Steve Ardagh and co-founder Kyle Geary. The company’s main aim was to protect workers with good quality, ethically sourced disposable protective clothing and equipment (PPE). Today, they employ 11 at two warehouses in Christchurch and Auckland and move a lot of disposable gear.

The food and meat industry are big customers, he says.

“Anything in direct contact with food needs to be clean, sourced from ethical manufacturers who also focus on environmental and social impacts in their processes.”

In the year-ending June 2014, Eagle sold 29.2 million items for use by the food processing industry, including meat companies, according to Ardagh. About 28 million blue nitrile rubber gloves were used throughout the plants, along with two million beard covers, 8.5 million sleeves, more than nine million hats and 3.2 million assorted pieces of other clothing (including jackets, smocks and aprons) plus 65,000 single use scouring pads for use in cleaning. They also bring in a few more million items for use in the medical and veterinary sectors.

Ardagh says his company has noticed a definite swing for its products in the meat industry recently, especially following last year’s non-botulism scare for Fonterra. Eagle now counts the majority of this country’s meat companies in its client list, including Silver Fern Farms, Alliance, ANZCO, Greenlea Premier Meats and Blue Sky Meats.

Ardagh and Geary believe there has been a “startling realisation” in all of the business sectors they service. That is, understanding something as humble and seemingly insignificant as plastic consumables carries with it both direct and reputational risk.

“Many organisations speak of Corporate Social Responsibility (CSR) and other variations of this without actually requiring their suppliers to support these goals. But many are now realising that transparency around the globe makes the unlikeliest of supplies, such as nitrile gloves, a potential risk if, for example, they were made in polluting factories, or ones that use child labour,” says Geary.

Steve inspecting the packing room of the Thailand plant. This has positive air pressure and is air-conditioned to keep insects and dust out.
Steve inspecting the packing room of the Thailand plant. This has positive air pressure and is air-conditioned to keep insects and dust out. He also has lunch and chats with the employees during his visit.

Eagle audits and visits all of its overseas suppliers – the company calls them partners – in China, Malaysia and Thailand every year. They ask the hard questions about environmental and social/ethical impacts to make sure they meet strict requirements to offer New Zealand food processors and exporters the knowledge their product is risk protected.

“The factories we have are the top of the bunch,” says Ardagh.

Eagle worked with its nitrile glove supplier in Thailand, for example, on a way to make more gloves fit more precisely to their packaging. That resulted in 320,000 more gloves fitting into one container, reducing freight costs and fuel use.

Last year, Eagle Consumables attained B-Corporation Certification, the first New Zealand company to do so. The majority of B-Corp accredited companies are US-based, but there are 45 in Australia too. “Eagle is treated as an honorary Australian,” says Ardagh.

B-Corp is an internationally recognised standard for doing better business, in terms of transparency, sustainability, ethics and also in being better for the planet. Accreditation means Eagle can be audited at any time and that the company has to reapply every two years. However, the process of accreditation to the certification scheme made them really look at their processes and see where they could do things better, says Geary. The company is now working on re-certification and improving its entry score of 80 out of 200.

Because they are dealing in disposable products, there is a real emphasis on reducing waste and improving performance all along the line. This has resulted in Eagle working with a supplier on the development of a thinner glove that’s just as strong so that more fit into the packaging, along with stronger gloves so that not so many need to be used during the course of the day, but can still be disposed of for hygiene purposes.

“Our job is to make it easy for our meat industry and other food sector customers, so they don’t have to worry about the details,” says Ardagh.

Eagle’s products are sold through resellers,such as Wesfarmers which services the food industry.

Find out more about Eagle Consumables.



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