executive impact

LIMEX set to revolutionize paper, plastic industry

By Chris Betros

Demonstration is said to be the most successful form of marketing. Taichi Yamaguchi, Corporate Planning Division General Manager for TBM Co Ltd, puts his business card on the table, pours some water on it, then tries to tear it but can't. The card is made of LIMEX, an innovative material manufactured from limestone that can be used to make "paper" and "plastic."

The advantages of LIMEX are that it does not cause deforestation and saves on water and oil resources. Furthermore, limestone supplies are abundant in many countries, including Japan.

In Japan, TBM is currently marketing LIMEX for use in cards, posters, food packaging and vacuum moldings. And that's just the beginning, says Yamaguchi.

Prior to joining TBM in 2015, Yamaguchi worked for Fuji Xerox Co and then Pricewaterhouse Coopers. At TBM, he is currently engaged in drawing up business strategies, business plans and capital policy and project managing the new plant in Miyagi Prefecture.

Japan Today visits the TBM office to hear more.

What is the history of LIMEX?

In 2008, TBM started importing stone paper that was invented in Taiwan. But the cost was not competitive and quality not good enough, so we changed from importing to in-house development and manufacturing and named the new innovative material LIMEX.

When you joined the company last year, did you know about LIMEX?

It was new for me. In fact, education is an important part of our business for potential clients. The focus of our marketing is showing them how LIMEX material can contribute to saving water and other resources, thus reducing their costs.

In what way?

Conventional plastics use 100% resin from petroleum. LIMEX use only 30% resin from petroleum and 70% limestone. With paper, one ton of paper is made from about 20 trees and 100 tons of water. LIMEX uses no water or trees. It's also recyclable.

What about the cost of manufacturing LIMEX?

Compared to normal printing paper, it is still a bit expensive but we are planning a second plant and with multi-production, costs will come down. Even now, we can make a set of "meishi" (business cards) for about 1,500 yen for 100 cards. That's the same price as regular paper "meishi". You can order online with us.

Who are your clients?

Our clients are mainly corporate, mainly companies such as Nihon Unisys, Mitsui Fudosan Residential, Snow Peak. But we do take individual orders.

How are sales so far?

Sales from LIMEX this year have been increasing, although they were almost zero last year.

Where do you see growth opportunities?

Right now, we are talking with paper and plastic manufacturers and working with big printing companies. Because the cost of raw materials in LIMEX is less expensive, there is huge potential for manufacturers in many different industries. Even for the 2020 Tokyo Olympics, it could be used in many places, for example, posters, stadium seats and so on. We are also working with Tokyo University on a Life Cycle Assessment project to visualize the contribution of LIMEX to the environment.

How abundant is limestone?

Many countries have abundant limestone resources. China has the biggest amount of the world. India has a lot. Japan, too. We set up our first plant in Shiroishi, Miyagi Prefecture. Limestone deposits are only about one hour's drive away, so we don't have to import any. The Miyagi plant is not only a production base, it also functions as a research and human resource development base in order to help us expand business.

What are your plans for overseas expansion?

We have just opened our first overseas office in San Francisco to be near to venture capital companies. The U.S. is a good place to start our international expansion because people there are more conscious about environmental issues. Our marketing strategies will differ as we go into more countries. For countries that import a lot of paper or have water shortages, LIMEX will be attractive not only for high-value products but also as a new material to replace paper.

How many staff do you currently have?

TBM has about 60 people and half of them at the Miyagi plant. Our Tokyo office focuses on sales and marketing, research, business development and communications.

What is the most satisfying part of your job?

It's when I see people realize that LIMEX is an innovative material that may change the world.

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Innovative, yes, and the material is recyclable into many different forms, but limestone is not a renewable resource.

3 ( +3 / -0 )

The advantages of LIMEX are that it does not cause deforestation

Deforestation is a problem in places like Brazil and Indonesia but most of the wood there is not used for paper production. In countries which do produce the most paper (such as the US, Finland, Sweden), the forests are managed and replanted, not clear cut. There is a sustainable forest management certification system in place. It might seem entirely counter-intuitive, but if you want to see more trees planted you should actually start using more paper, not less.

The problem with this 'stone' paper is that it's not environmentally friendly at all. It still uses plastic to hold everything together. It's potentially recyclable, but how many people will just end up throwing it in the trash?

The better solution would just be to ban paper imports from countries with poor environmental regulations.

2 ( +2 / -0 )

Or better yet, people exchange virtual meishi over their smartphones, since no businessperson is without one...

0 ( +0 / -0 )

This is very interesting.

1 ( +1 / -0 )

Not for paper towels or bathroom use, probably.

1 ( +1 / -0 )

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