Drive about an hour west of Boston and you’ll find a small city called Leominster. With a population of just over 41,000 and a history deeply rooted in the manufacturing industry, Leominster holds an ominous and historic nickname: The Pioneer Plastics City. Now hang on; we know that being known as the Birthplace of Modern Plastics may not exactly be the best of nicknames in today’s day and age. But as a member of a community and a city that has always been a leader in the plastics industry, UrthPact has engineered and contributed the solution to the plastic pollution problem. In doing so, UrthPact hopes that their home town will be soon known as the Pioneer Bio-Plastics City.
Quick history lesson first: originally a part of nearby Lancaster, Leominster itself was incorporated in 1740, and was a major stop on the Underground Railroad during the Civil War. What started out as mainly a farming community quickly moved to manufacturing around the turn of the 19th century, with the opening of the Fifth Massachusetts Turnpike and the addition of the Fitchburg and Worcester railroads that ran straight through the center of town. One of the largest manufacturing industries that succeeded in Leominster was the comb industry (keep in mind, we’re still pre-plastic here, so comb-making was a painstaking and time-consuming process). Comb-making was then revolutionized in 1868 by the invention of “celluloid,” one of the first plastic materials. Production skyrocketed, and Leominster was dubbed the “Comb City.” The next turning point came in the early 1930s when Samuel Foster brought the process of injection molding to Leominster, which further expanded a plastic manufacturers’ capabilities. The introduction of injection molding would earn Leominster the moniker of the “Pioneer Plastics City.”
Leominster would continue to be a leader in the plastics industry throughout the 20th century, with many iconic products originating there, including Tupperware and the pink lawn flamingo. The late 20th century marked the first large-scale decline in plastics manufacturing in Leominster, as operations were made cheaper by moving them overseas. But it was also around this time that UrthPact CEO Paul Boudreau had begun his journey in the plastics industry, one that would lead to him and UrthPact becoming a world leader in compostable bioplastic manufacturing.
Bourdeau began his work in plastics with the goal of manufacturing items that anyone else said was impossible to do in the world of injection molding. And he succeeded. He built a very successful injection molding business that contracted to a variety of organizations, creating a wide range of previously impossible-to-make products. However, a walk on the beach one spring on a family trip to the coast of Maine put things into perspective. Boudreau noticed a variety of plastic remnants littered on the shore, and he could connect himself to nearly every single piece he found. He realized then that in an effort to make a mark on an industry, he had left a terrible scar on the planet. As an established member of the Pioneer Plastics City and the injection molding industry, he decided it was time to change the face of plastics to find a more sustainable solution.
And in 2013 Boudreau founded UrthPact – a company focused on the manufacturing of single-use compostable bioplastic products. The company motto is to create a world where consumption leaves no footprint, and they’ve set a goal of keeping 25 billion plastic pieces from reaching oceans and landfills by 2025. With innovative techniques and a wealth of engineering knowledge, Boudreau and his team have built one of the largest and most successful bioplastic manufacturing companies in the world. Still located in Leominster, they’ve added another goal to the list: to change the reputation of the Pioneer Plastics City, to break the status quo in Leominster that was set almost 150 years ago with the introduction of celluloid. Boudreau and UrthPact were recently featured in WCBV-TV’s Chronicle special “Know Your Nicknames,” where Boudreau talked about the importance of bioplastics, and how UrthPact is working to introduce them to the world as the solution to the single-use plastics problem. Some of the other towns included in the program were Carriage Town (Amesbury), Chair City (Gardner), the Kielbasa Capital of the World (Chicopee), the Asparagus Capital of the World (Hadley), Watch City (Waltham), and Leather, or Tanner City (Peabody). But there’s no shortage of nicknames in Massachusetts; honorable mentions from the episode include Tool Town (Athol), Jump Town (Orange), Toy Town (Winchendon), Witch City (Salem), Whaling City (New Bedford), the Birthplace of American Liberty (Lexington), Sliver City (Taunton), and Shoe City/”the City of Champions” (Brockton).
Leominster and the plastics industry is changing. Both manufacturers and consumers recognize that we need a more sustainable solution than traditional, petroleum-based single-use plastic products. The problem started close to home for us here at UrthPact, and now we’re solving it. Leominster is still very much a pioneer city in the plastics industry – just a much more sustainable one. How often do you see a solution arise from the same community that was one of the original leaders for the problem? Innovation and leadership have always been our specialty at UrthPact, and we don’t plan on stopping anytime soon. Before you know it, the sign you drive past to enter our city will read: Welcome to Leominster, The Pioneer Bioplastics City.