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Mine-friendly toilet gains global recognition.

The makers of a successful portable mining toilet expect to roll out a slew of new fibreglass products and create more jobs once they move into an expanded shop this fall.

Sudbury's Rezplast Manufacturing Ltd. has made great strides since introducing their environmentally-friendly mining toilet to the world at the MINExpo show in Las Vegas two years ago.

Since then, general manager Sandro Spadafora estimates they've sold more than 200 toilets to the likes of Inco, Falconbridge (now Xstrata Nickel), West Virginia coal miners Consol Energy and Codelco, Chile's state-run national copper corporation, as well as the U.S. government.

A chance encounter by Spadafora last year in a Detroit airport with a superintendent from Halliburton, the massive petroleum and energy industry supplier to the U.S. government, resulted in an order of 20 portable toilets sent to a nuclear waste dump in New Mexico.

Rezplast's inventiveness in designing and manufacturing mining toilets and emergency safety shower systems earned them a provincial Global Traders Award last spring for innovation and export growth.

The "small little custom company" took an expensive gamble by attending the Vegas mining show. But the event exposed their product to a wider international audience and fattened up their order book.

In mid-September, the company's 15 employees began packing up to move from their 3,500-square-foot building on Kelly Lake Road into a 20,000-square-foot facility on Notre Dame Avenue.

Leading up to the Vegas launch, about 95 per cent of their business catered to Sudbury's two biggest miners.

Two years later, the local market constitutes only 20 per cent due to growing sales in the mining and forestry sectors in northeastern Ontario, western Quebec, and especially the U.S. market and internationally.

"We've diversified more to have a larger client base and we're producing more product than we ever have."

Known in Sudbury for specializing in the design, manufacture and supply of safety and mining products, as well as plastic and fibreglass reinforced plastic products, the company also makes a line of Kevlar and fibreglass 'Kanuk' canoes, a product Spadafora calls a locally-produced "hidden gem."

The new space gives them a more visible store front and showroom, while also protecting their employees from any harmful emissions in their manufacturing process.

The portable toilet emerged out of a collaboration between Rezplast and the engineering team at Sling-Choker. Inco wanted a composting toilet for underground mines to assist with their waste water treatment work.

The system uses environmentally-friendly bacteria, commonly found in regular septic systems, but refined to work in dark, damp, cold places like mine sites.

The units range in price between $5,000 and $15,000 depending on size and configuration. Compared to conventional portable toilets which are prone to spills and overflows, the Rezplast toilet needs minimal servicing, uses no electricity or chemical, produces no effluent and needs to be emptied only once every 12 to 18 months.

Marketed as a mini-sewage treatment plant, the latrine is mounted on top of the biological plant so the contents doesn't need to be frequently transferred to another disposal location.

Rezplast designers went through 10 prototypes before they were ready to market it.

They now have international distributor-ships in the U.S., Chile, Ecuador and in Mexico, through a collaborative sales effort with Canadian mining companies.

"The biggest thing for us is sustainable growth," says Spadafora. "We don't want to grow too big to drown ourselves and chase after the (regulatory) paperwork to get going."

They intend to stick to their strategic plan to take calculated steps to grow one territory at a time before moving on to the next.

Spadafora says the new location allows them to grow the toilet business with a more dedicated staff and a service team.

"Before we just put the product on skids and shipped it out. Now we go to the mine site, go underground, set it up and do all the training and education. That's the biggest challenge, (educating on) the dangers behind raw sewage."

Human waste disposal issues are becoming big concerns in the global mining industry. Rezplast is having exploratory talks with interests in Russia, Germany and especially China where disposal of human waste issues are significant on mine sites employing as many as 40,000 workers.

A distribution deal for South Africa is still in the works as the company must work through government channels for health and safety approvals.

Rezplast has been working on a smaller cottage toilet, but so far, it's been a work in progress since scaling down the mining model has become more complex than anticipated.

There's also plenty of government paperwork to get the regulatory approvals to transfer the industrial technology version to the consumer market.

"But the phone's been ringing off the hook since our ad appeared last year. About four or five times per day there's people wanting one for their cottage, an island or remote areas."


Northern Ontario Business
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Author:Ross, Ian
Publication:Northern Ontario Business
Date:Oct 1, 2006
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