Profits and losses in recycling.
By William Atkinson
Can you make money on your company’s recyclable items? Sometimes. Can you lose money on your company’s recyclable items? Sometimes. Mostly, though, you won’t get paid nor will you have to pay – but your efforts benefit the earth every time.
The primary determinants are what and how much you have gathered to be recycled or reused, and whether you have separated them. For example, if you have scrap office items such as paper, corrugated cardboard and plastic cups, don’t expect any payment. “In fact these days, with prices being so depressed, most of these items go to a landfill or incinerator,” says Bob Garino, director of commodities for the Washington, D.C.-based Institute of Scrap Recycling Industries (ISRI). “However, if you have a lot of scrap iron and it is separated from everything else, you will always get paid for that.”
ISRI represents approximately 1,500 companies around the country that process, broker and consume scrap commodities, including paper, plastics, metals, glass, electronics, rubber and textiles. It also has members in about 20 other countries around the world. Members range in size from small scrap yards to Fortune 500 users of scrap, such as Alcoa. (See the sidebar “Resource Box” for information on how to locate ISRI members in your area.)
How can you dispose of your recyclable scrap? That depends on the amount you generate on a regular basis. “If you are a large company and generating a lot of scrap, one of our members might arrange to deliver a roll-off to your site and then pick it up on a regular basis,” says Garino. “However, smaller companies might have to drop off their own scrap at a scrap yard or recycling center.”
Before making any decisions, though, Garino emphasizes the importance of starting off with the premise that what you have may retain at least some value. “Don’t automatically assume that the scrap you have is worthless,” he says. For example, even if you end up not receiving any payment, you may be able to arrange to have it hauled away for free by a recycler, which may ultimately reduce the costs you pay to your trash company.
One specific area of reuse or recycling that may be of interest to precasters is office electronics. While some companies look at recycling of such equipment first, Heather Smith, senior manager with the Parkersburg, W.Va.-based National Center for Electronics Recycling (NCER), encourages businesses to consider reuse opportunities (see “Resource Box” for information on this organization). “You can contact local nonprofit reuse organizations, including schools and charities,” she suggests. “In many cases, these donations may be taxdeductible.”
Some retailers and manufacturers may also take back old equipment when you purchase new equipment. “They then have the burden of reuse or recycling,” she explains. There are also some IT asset disposition companies such as Redemtech (www.redemtech.com) and Intechra (www. intechra.com) that give companies fair market value for their used computer equipment. “If you have high-end, usable equipment, this is another good option for reuse. They actually resell the equipment,” says Smith.
If reuse is not an option, then recycling makes sense. “If you have old equipment that can’t be reused, you should think about recycling it,” she suggests. In fact, 20 states currently mandate recycling electronics in some way, and some are more stringent than others.
According to the NCER, electronic equipment may contain hazardous or toxic materials such as lead, cadmium, chromium and mercury, which can cause environmental problems if tossed in the trash. Recycling of this equipment keeps hazardous materials out of the waste stream and makes it possible to recover resources. Recyclers typically disassemble units, salvage reusable parts and send materials to a variety of downstream vendors.
In some cases, you may have to pay to drop off your office and other electronic equipment for recycling such as computers, monitors or laptops. “In the states that have laws, consumers are able to recycle electronics for free,” explains Smith. “However, businesses are expected to find ways to recycle electronics on their own at their own cost. They are usually required to pay a per-pound rate.”
In other cases, though, you may be able to discard your equipment free of charge. One option may be through a new program launched by Goodwill Industries and Dell called the Reconnect Program. “This is primarily a residential computer recycling program that offers an easy, convenient and responsible way to recycle used computer equipment,” explains Smith. “You can drop off any brand of used equipment at a participating Goodwill donation center in your area. It is free, and you will receive a receipt for tax purposes.” Again, the program is primarily aimed at consumers, but according to Smith, some Goodwill locations may accept business donations. “You need to call ahead to check if they accept business donations and if they can handle the number of items you have,” she says. “You don’t want to bring a truckload of stuff and just drop it off.”
It is also important to pay attention to data security. For example, if you are recycling a laptop or desktop computer, your personal data may still be on the hard drive. “Most recyclers have hard drive wiping policies, but it is always in your best interest to protect your personal information by erasing or destroying your hard drive,” suggests Smith. There are many hard drive wiping software programs. You can learn more about this topic from Tech Soup at www.techsoup.org. Another option is to remove the hard drive before recycling your computer. You can then destroy it by drilling four holes through the platters. Another option is to scuff the platters with an angle grinder or sander. “This allows you to recycle the computer without having concerns about the data on the drive,” adds Smith.
One NPCA member working toward going greener is C.J. Pink in London, Ontario. It utilizes a new recycling program managed by the city of London. In operation since late 2009, the program covers paper, plastics and aluminum cans. “These items are picked up alongside our regular trash pickup,” says Karen Dodd, who handles accounts receivable at the company. “We don’t receive any payment for the material, but we don’t
have to pay to have it hauled away either.”
C.J. Pink sends scrap rebar and other metals to a company in town that takes metals, and it is paid by weight. “We usually have a bin-full every four to five months,” she says. “Another company picks up our scrap concrete and hauls it away.” Another precast manufacturer with a strong commitment to recycling of all types is Metromont in Greenville, S.C. One
innovation it practices is water recycling. “Our water recycling initiative began when we put a new batch plant in our Hiram, Ga., facility,” says Jay Cariveau, AIA, LEED AP, director of business development and marketing. “With the new plant, we decided we needed a more modern and efficient way to deal with slurry and wastewater.”
Metromont started by evaluating several different systems that were being used in other countries. It then made the decision to separate the aggregates and fines from the slurry and bring it back to potable water that could be used in manufacturing.
“We ended up building a 26,000-gallon concrete slurry containment pit,” he continues. “We have two agitators in there. When trucks come back to wash down, they wash out in the reclaiming area. We have a tumbler in there, so all of the aggregates and fines can be sorted and separated, and come out on the other end.” The slurry water goes through a filtration process, and flocculants are added to pull out the dead cement and fines, which end up going into a containment system. The inert material is then hauled off to a landfill.
“So we still have trucks going to landfills, but this has been reduced by about 80 percent, and the material that is now being hauled can be used for daily cover,” he explains.
The plant then chemically balances the water and stores it in a 20,000-gallon water tank. It then goes through testing so it can go back into the mix designs. “This has allowed us to reduce our new water consumption by 75 percent,” says Cariveau.
After Metromont saw the benefits at Hiram, it decided to implement similar strategies in its new batch plants and even at some facilities that had existing batch plants. It has implemented this process in Richmond, Va., at its corporate facility in Greenville, and also installed a similar system at its new Florida plant.
Metromont is also involved in other recycling initiatives. “We recycle all steel components that come into all of our plants, including rebar and strand,” he says.
“We are also currently investigating paper recycling opportunities in our offices, because we have a lot of paper.” To reduce waste in the meantime, the company has implemented a procedure that involves two-sided printing on all printers. “Everyone’s printer is set up to do that,” explains Cariveau. “We also discourage the printing of any document that doesn’t need to be printed.” The company also provides technology that allows a lot of electronic transfer and data review using larger monitors and/or dual monitors, so people don’t have to print documents in order to read them.
Metromont has also begun to look at dunnage blocks in the plants. “We used a lot of hardwood timber in the past,” says Cariveau. “We are now using some polymer dunnage blocks, which are made from recycled PET (polyethylene terephthalate) soda bottles; these also have longer life than the wood blocks.”
Oldcastle Precast in Telford, Pa., also has a strong commitment to recycling. “Government regulations require that we recycle batteries, waste oil and light bulbs,” says John Hunsberger, plant manager. “We have a company come in and pick that stuff up for recycling.”
Oldcastle also started a program for recycling cardboard boxes for supplies rather than throwing them in the dumpster. “We now have a cleaner supply stream coming into the plant, and there is also a reduction of the waste,” says Hunsberger.
The plant doesn’t recycle waste wash water that comes out of the batch plant, but it does make it environmentally friendly. The water is pumped from underneath the batch plant into a two-part container, where the fine aggregate settles out and then runs through some filtering. Next it runs through another baffle system, where it is neutralized from a pH of 25 to 10, and then it goes into the local municipal wastewater.
To reuse bone yard concrete, the plant arranges to have a company come in with a crusher to separate the steel from the concrete. “They take the concrete and use it for clean fill,” he says.
The plant also recycles scrap steel. “We end up with a lot of rebar that can’t be used in other applications,” he explains. “We store this in a 40-yard or 30-yard container.” When it is filled, a steel recycler comes in and hauls it out. “We make some money on this,” he continues. “However, if I pay 30 cents a pound for it, I may only get 2 cents a pound when I recycle it.” There are two ways to look at this, according to Hunsberger. On the one hand, the plant is losing 28 cents a pound. However, if the rebar were just discarded it, it would cost the plant to have it hauled off in the trash.
Where the plant can really make some extra money is with recycling obsolete form parts, which it does about once a year. “We made about $3,000 on these recently,” he says.
There are other benefits to the company’s recycling programs. One is the opportunity to raise employee awareness. “Because we are managing waste better overall, our 30-yard and 40-yard waste containers aren’t filling up as quickly,” explains Hunsberger. In addition, employees in general are more aware of recycling, so they are more careful about what they use in the first place, how they use it and ultimately what they throw away. “For example, in the past, they might use half of whatever was in a box and then store it in a corner where it might be covered up and forgotten,” he states. “Today that
U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA)
Has a significant amount of detailed information on a number of initiatives, including “Electronics Recycling,” “Industrial Materials Recycling,” “Materials & Waste Exchanges,” and “Reduce, Reuse, Recycle.”
Institute of Scrap Recycling Industries (ISRI)
A trade association composed of scrap recycling companies. Click on “Chapters” to get contact information for ISRI members in your region.
Natural Resources Canada
A federal government department specializing in energy, minerals and
metals, forests and earth sciences.
Canadian Association of Recycling Industries
A primary resource of Canada’s secondary resource industries.
National Center for Electronics Recycling
National Electronics Recycling Infrastructure Clearinghouse
Click on “Current Electronics Recycling Laws in Effect” for a list of 20
states and one municipality (New York City) that currently have electronics
recycling laws in effect, and the details of those laws.
Electronics Takeback Coalition
National Cristina Foundation
A national organization that encourages donations of computers and other
electronics equipment, which is then matched to charities, schools and
other public agencies in the United States, Canada and other countries
around the world.
Goodwill Reconnect Program
William Atkinson, Cartersville, Ill., is a freelance writer who covers business and safety issues.