4 Sept 2008
Looking Ahead(HKTDC Packaging, Vol 02,2008)
From rather humble beginnings, Sea Lake Polyethylene Enterprise Ltd now lays claim to being one of the most experienced manufacturers of plastic bags in Hong Kong.
"This is a family business that started in the late 1960s," says Sales and Marketing Manager Shirley Law. "We began in a single room with one or two machines, making basic plastic shopping bags."
The company started to grow substantially in the early 1970s. The business then experienced another quantum leap in the mid-1980s, following the opening of the China market.
"The low cost of labour and land rental in China, at the time, benefited us with substantial increases in productivity. As a result, we were able to handle much larger orders and expanded our sales to more and larger markets," says Ms Law.
As a result, Sea Lake followed many other Hong Kong firms and set up production facilities across the border in Shenzhen. "It was quite convenient to be in Shenzhen at the time," she says, "but now we have moved out to Dongguan for more space and better infrastructure for manufacturing operations."
HDPE and LDPE are the main raw materials for almost all of the shopping bags offered by Sea Lake. According to Ms Law, HDPE is resistant to many different solvents and has a wide variety of applications. "However, we do biodegradable products as well," notes Ms Law.
Early plastics were rather basic. "Once, demand was for a simple one colour, two sides, with a printed logo and punched holes for handles," says Ms Law. "Today, however, designs have changed, often featuring full-process printing and various rope handles."
Innovative designs from Sea Lake include OPP Lamination (orientated PP, a type of plastic commonly used in packaging), double-wall and cardboard front and back.
"Double-wall bags are a combination of two layers of plastic. The inner layer usually acts as the background colour of the design that shows through to the transparent outer layer that carries the main printed design," she adds.
"Cardboard front-and-back and double-wall products are very much alike, except that in the former the inner layer is a piece of printed cardboard that shows through to the outer layer of plastic."
The firm recently adapted the OPP technique for large shopping bags, in which the design is printed on the inside of an OPP film that is subsequently laminated with either HDPE or LDPE.
"This method allows the printing on the bag to be scratch-free over a very long period," Ms Law says.
"We can also supply plastic bags manufactured using leftover materials of our own. We have a recycling machine, and we melt the plastic down and produce a new film."
When using recycled plastics, though, the quality is a bit lower. "As a result, we prefer to not use this material for our main lines. It is best used for handles and other small parts. The truth is, recycled plastic means an inferior finish. The fact is you can't have both," she insists.
Furthermore, recycled plastic materials are expensive raw materials. "The world wants green, but when buyers find out it's not going to be cheaper or the print is not as good as using virgin plastic then they often reconsider," Ms Law maintains.
Nonetheless, Sea Lake does offer biodegradable plastic bags. "We have signed a contract with one of the biggest biodegradable additives manufacturers - EPI - and you can see the logo on our bags to indicate that they are biodegradable," she explains.
"Product testing is carried out in cooperation with EPI," she adds. "There are so many kinds of plastic these days, and the EPI scientists have formulated additives for the majority of them."
The firm's traditional export market was the US, taking up to 70% or 80% of production, followed by Canada and Europe. Today, as a result of anti-dumping legislation in the US, Canada is the prime overseas destination.
"The US takes about 30% or 40% today, while Canada takes the lion's share," says Ms Law. "Europe remains the smallest market despite there being many different countries there. They usually place only small orders."
Text By TONY HENDERSON