Is your company sending tons of waste material to the landfill each year? This practice could be doing some serious damage to your bottom line – not to mention the planet.
By Shari Held
The U.S. produces an estimated 7.6 billion tons of industrial waste each year.1 Unfortunately, much of that tonnage ends up in landfills. That’s a lose-lose for businesses as well as for the environment because the costs associated with waste disposal can quickly add up. On average, the cost of sending waste to the landfill is $50 per ton, while incinerating industrial waste can cost $65 to $75 per ton.2
Fortunately, precasters and other manufacturers can do the right thing for the planet while saving money, increasing employee pride and enhancing their reputation with a waste management plan. The idea is to find ways to reduce, repurpose, recycle or sell unneeded materials. A trip to the landfill should be the last resort.
Getting down to business
Selecting the right mix of team members to lead the effort is important. M.A. Industries, an NPCA Associate Member and a precast industry supplier based in Peachtree City, Ga., went through this process several years ago. Its team included the head of maintenance and facilities, a member of the accounting department and a production manager.
A logical starting point is an audit of the different types of industrial waste generated by your facility. You’ll want to know how much of each type you dispose and how much it costs to collect and dispose of each. This will give you real data that you can use to develop an effective waste management plan. In M.A. Industries’ case, cardboard, plastic straps and plastic shrink wrap made up the bulk of its waste. The company filled two 30-yard dumpsters that needed to be emptied several times a week at a cost of $375 each time.
“We started out by asking ‘What can we do differently?’ and went on from there,” said Scott Peacock, senior vice president of sales for M.A. Industries.
Here are some other questions to consider when determining the appropriate waste management option for the waste materials on your list:
- Where can you reduce? What items can be eliminated before they hit your door? Can you approach vendors and request different packaging, for instance?
- Can you reuse or repurpose any of the material?
- What materials can be recycled? Currently the U.S. recycles approximately 30% of its waste stream, but that is far short of the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency estimate that up to 75% of landfill items are recyclable.3
- Can you sell any of your industrial waste?
- Do federal or local laws or regulations apply to any of your waste materials?
M.A. Industries determined it could regrind plastic or reuse some boxes internally to hold parts. It opted to recycle plastic straps, plastic shrink wrap, paper and cardboard. According to the EPA, paper and cardboard make up the bulk of industrial waste products. Recycling those two items alone can make a big difference.
Be sure to set measurable goals such as reducing waste by a specific number of tons for the year, increasing recycling by X percent or saving Y dollars in disposal costs.
Get the creative juices flowing
To reduce or dispose of your Styrofoam, lumber and steel – items precasters and suppliers probably have lying around – here are some facts and tips to consider:
- STYROFOAM (expanded polystyrene, or EPS): The amount of EPS that Americans use each year would circle the globe 426 times.4 No surprise, it’s estimated that EPS takes up 30% of the world’s landfills.5 It’s a lightweight – 95- to 98% of EPS is air – space hog that isn’t biodegradable. The cost of transporting it to a recycling plant, if you can find one that accepts it, can be cost-prohibitive. Depending on the volume of EPS (and other recyclables) you have, you may want to consider a one-time purchase of a baler to produce uniform bales of Styrofoam that are easier to store and transport.6 There are also machines that melt polystyrene into a gooey substance that can be recycled.7 Perhaps the best solution is to reduce your Styrofoam use in the first place. Request vendors to use alternative shipping methods. Unlike large Styrofoam blocks, EPS “peanuts” or pellets can be reused or donated to your local UPS store.
- LUMBER/WOOD PRODUCTS: Wood, as long as it is free from contaminants, can be recycled into mulch, material for engineered wood products, compost material, animal bedding and boiler fuel. If you plan to collect wood for recycling, don’t purchase pallets chemically treated with methylbromide (marked with an MB) since these can’t be recycled.8 Can you reuse the wood for repairs or create shelves or something needed in the plant? Donating is another option. You might find a trade school that would welcome your unneeded lumber/wood products.
- STEEL: According to the American Iron and Steel Institute, steel is the most recycled material. No wonder, since it can be endlessly recycled without degrading its properties. Each year, 70 million tons of domestic scrap steel is used to make new steel. That means there’s a big market for scrap steel. Contact your local scrap yard to find out how much cash you could recoup from pieces of steel rebar and other odd pieces of steel you may have lying around.
Finding the right partner(s)
You’ll need to find local outlets that collect and recycle or dispose of the waste produced in your plant and then analyze costs. Don’t forget to factor in any costs associated with meeting their requirements for disposing of the material – and your ability or willingness to meet those requirements. For example, can you bale the cardboard or is collecting it in a dumpster more feasible?
Locating an outlet proved the most challenging part of setting up a waste management program for M.A. Industries.
“The closest recycling center we found was 50 miles from us,” Peacock said. “They told us we didn’t produce enough of any of these products to warrant them putting a bin here.”
But M.A. Industries didn’t give up. Instead, employees resorted to one of the most time-tested methods of all.
“We’re in an industrial park and we started asking people we knew at the other companies what they did,” Peacock said.
That’s how they located a company that recycled cardboard, pallets and other items that was located less than a quarter mile away. M.A. Industries uses its own truck to drop off recyclables.
“It’s a perfect situation for us,” Peacock said. “We’re fine with just giving the materials to them because we don’t have to pay for the expense of sending it to the landfill.”
Successfully implementing your plan
Even a well-thought-out game plan won’t guarantee success if you overlook the internal implementation piece. As with all company initiatives, acceptance is easier when the plan has support from the top. Making it as effortless as possible for employees to follow will also improve compliance. You may even want to consider implementing your plan in stages.
Questions to consider during this time are:
- Where will the waste be collected?
- Who will be responsible for collecting it?
- How will we communicate the plan to all employees?
M.A. Industries set up collection bins for cardboard, plastic straps and plastic shrink wrap in three locations of the building. All offices are equipped with separate containers for recycling paper and unrecyclable waste. According to Peacock, it took some upfront education to achieve compliance from employees who were initially skeptical.
“Once people understood why we were doing this – that it was a cost-saving measure as well as helping the environment – they really got onboard,” he said.
Keep tabs on your program to determine if you’re meeting or exceeding your goals and make adjustments accordingly. M.A. Industries’ waste management initiative saved the company more than $50,000 in the first year by eliminating the two 30-yard dumpsters that were emptied several times a week. The company replaced them with one eight-yard dumpster that was picked up weekly for a mere $100 per month. That was seven years ago. Since then the company has enjoyed even more savings and has begun recycling electronics and even opened that program up to employees.
Peacock’s advice for others who are considering creating a waste management plan is to set your mind to it and then stick to it.
“Don’t go backwards,” he said.
Shari Held is an Indianapolis, Ind.-based freelance writer who has covered the construction industry for more than 10 years.