Trading Stories: Making money in Cork from old paper

BASED in the Marina Business Park on Centre Park Road, Ecocel recycles paper into a sustainable form of insulation. CEO John Egan tells us why people should put more thought into the insulation in their homes.
Trading Stories: Making money in Cork from old paper

John Egan of Ecocel, based in The Marina Commercial Park. John hopes to open plants in the midlands and in Dublin.

How did you get involved in this business?

I used to have a company with others called The Healthy Building Company. 

We were too far ahead of the game for the type of building that was going on at the time. There is another company doing it now, but people didn't take the time to be aware back then.

The insulation was the part that I brought to the company. I've been involved in that industry since 1991, when I first imported a container, and I've been dealing with it since.

Ecocel was started by Francis Thome in about 2003, but it went under. Towards the end of 2007 my mother died, and I got my inheritance in 2009, so I used it to buy Ecocel from the receivers. My father had run a paper mill in Calcutta, in India, where I was born. I lived there until I was eight-and-a-half, and then moved back to Ireland to come to boarding school. It was absolutely brilliant there, and we were very privileged. My inheritance had come from paper, so it felt right to put it back into paper.

Tell us more about your product.

What we are doing is taking a waste product - paper - and turning it into an insulation that saves energy. It's actually carbon negative, and it performs better acoustically and thermally than the imported products presently used. There is no heavy transport involved, and it's a locally produced, sustainable product. We have local people who bring in paper to us. They would have to pay to recycle it otherwise, but we take it for free, so we are really trying to get it out there that you can recycle with us for free. We have to buy in bulk too. It then goes through two big shredders, then into a hammer mill with the fire retardant which is beaten into the shreddings. Then it's put through a cyclone for dust extraction, then into a bagging machine. We install it too, into attics, timber-framed walls, and sloping ceilings.

Why is insulation so important?

It should be the most important thing in your house. Insulation is the only thing in your house where, if you do it right, you will get your money back. It comes back to you in your pocket, and also in your health, because you will have a healthier house.

Tell us about your staff.

There was just two of us, but we just got a grant from the Local Enterprise Office to help us employ two others. They have also given us a grant towards marketing, and gave us a grant before for online marketing. I have very good things to say about the Local Enterprise Office.

What kind of houses are you working on?

We are seeing a lot more one-off builds. Most of our sales would be for one off timber-frame houses. There is also an estate in Carrigaline where we are just finishing doing 26 houses. We also worked to get on to Cork County Council's list of tender materials for the next four years. We have already done one attic for them. As for all the grantwork that the council organised through SEAI, that is being done mostly with an imported synthetic fibre that will need to be replaced, rather than the locally sourced, sustainable material that will last the lifetime of the house.

Has business changed much?

Things are slowly getting better, but Brexit didn't help much. We had been sending nearly a container a month to an Irish timber frame manufacturer based in the UK. He was buying from us until the sterling dropped and we weren't so competitive.

What is in the future for Ecocel?

If the Cork plant reaches its full capacity, rather than expanding it, we would open up another factory in the midlands or Dublin to keep the paper local and the insulation local, to cut down on transport. Obviously, employing more people elsewhere would help to inform communities about the benefits of Ecocel cellulose.

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