Industrial Solid Waste Reduction Makes $$$ and Sense

In just three years, McDonald’s has implemented nearly 100 initiatives to reduce waste, recycle, and buy recycled products in its 9,400 restaurants across the country. Together, these initiatives have eliminated 7,500 tons of packaging annually, saving the company $5 million dollars. Georgia-Pacific has worked equally hard to get the most from every tree that comes into its plant and mills. More than 200 waste minimization projects that involve source reduction, improvements in processes and products, and increased reuse, recovery, and recycling have resulted in $80 million in annualized savings.

While companies save on tipping fees by reducing and reusing waste, recyclers are reaping near record high profits across the country. According to a New York Times article on June 27, 1995, executives of garbage giant, Browning-Ferris Industries, are cheering the good news as they bankroll increased revenues for their stockholders by collecting and selling waste paper, aluminum, glass, cardboard, and various other recyclables from households and industry. (See inset for current market prices.)

However, before company managers empty their dumpsters searching for materials to sell, it is more cost effective to reduce or eliminate waste before recycling residuals. Any income obtained from recycling cannot possibly offset the purchase price of the original products. Typically, it costs 50 cents per pound to buy steel while recycling revenues amount to only 2 cents a pound. The most cost effective way to deal with solid waste is to follow the waste management hierarchy:

During the first two years of P2AD’s existence, the technical staff has provided assistance to several hundred companies ranging from a small auto body shop to Georgia-Pacific Corp. On-site assessments have been done for a wide variety of manufacturers. P2AD is currently focusing significant resources in the following industry sectors: Pulp and Paper Products, Chemical and Allied Products, Transportation Equipment, Rubber and Plastic Products, Fabricated Metal Products, and Printing and Publishing.

One pollution problem that P2AD found in common for every company in every sector was solid waste. In fact, industrial solid waste comprises the majority (57%) of the solid waste stream produced in the United States (see graphic below). Some companies, like pulp and paper mills, spend over 1 million dollars each year for the removal of solid waste. In most cases, a considerable amount of the solid waste produced by a company can be reduced, reused in its processes, or recycled.

Generally, industrial solid waste can be classified as either process waste or packaging waste. Waste can be caused by anything from uncontrollable process inefficiencies to design limitations, low raw material quality, inefficient plant layout, poor housekeeping, and maintenance or operational neglect. It is important to evaluate the nature of the waste and make the necessary changes to reduce it.

Process Waste

If there are significant amounts of product in the dumpster, there may be a process problem. Evaluating processes and altering them to minimize the amount of waste produced will most likely save money in the long term. In-house reuse of process wastes is becoming a more familiar practice. Some printing companies have “closed the loop” by recycling all their waste products back into their operations.

Packaging Waste

Packaging waste, one example of the “low hanging fruit” of waste minimization, is the easiest area in which to begin reduction. A good way to reduce packaging waste at a facility is to work with suppliers. Encourage them to take back whatever packaging they sent or redesign packaging to minimize material used. Some materials are sold in returnable totes. Another way to reduce packaging is to work with customers. Reducing packaging and shipping wastes will reduce both production and disposal costs. Finally, whatever cannot be reduced or reused should be recycled if possible. It is important to speak with brokers and end users to be sure their quality requirements can be met for a specific material. The Georgia Department of Community Affairs (404-656-3851) can provide you with their 1994 Recycling Markets Directory for Georgia.

Market Prices for Common Recyclables (South)

Material	   Processor Prices*1 (cents/lb)     End user *2 (cents/lb)

Aluminum - mixed             35-42                          58-68
Plastic PET  - mixed          0-4                           15-22
Plastic HDPE - mixed color    0-4                            9-13
Stainless Steel              15-23                          35-40
PVC                            5                            12-18
Newspaper/loose              50-70
Newspaper/baled              70-90                         120-140
Corrugated/loose             40-80
Corrugated/baled             75-100                        105-135                                                         
Mixed office                 25-100                            
Mixed office/baled           80-180                         75-100
Computer paper/loose         90-180
Computer paper/baled        190-220                        320-420

*1 Dealers, brokers, scrap yards, municipal centers.
*2 Mills, foundries, factories, refineries, plants.

Source: Waste Age’s Recycling Times, September 5, 1995.

Industrial Solid Waste by Industry Sector

Pulp and Paper Products

Solid waste is probably the most significant waste from pulp and paper manufacturers in terms of disposal cost and volume. Often, wood chips become contaminated with dirt or sand when they fall from conveyors, rendering them unusable to make paper or as a fuel. Bark that falls from logs waiting to be processed similarly cannot be used as a fuel if contaminated with sand and dirt. Oversized and undersized logs and limbs that cannot be processed by mill equipment are also landfilled. The Mill Residue and By-products Consortium is an industry-wide effort to identify reuse opportunities for mill waste. Members include representatives of many of the southeastern pulp and paper mills. Contact Dr. Larry Morris at (706) 542-8356 for more information.

Chemical and Allied Products

Chemical manufacturers normally receive chemicals in metal and plastic drums. These drums can be recycled throughout Georgia. It might be worthwhile to request vendors to take back empty drums also. Packaging waste in this industry includes wooden pallets and plastic wrap. Wooden pallets can be recycled or sent back and plastic wrap should be minimized.

Transportation Equipment

Packaging waste in the form of wooden pallets and cardboard is a significant solid waste in this sector, and it can be recycled. Also, paint cans are abundant solid wastes in this industry. The paint must be used completely or left to dry out. Then the steel can, in most cases, can be recycled. (In cases where great amounts of paint are used, it is important to check with a compliance officer at the Environmental Protection Division to learn whether air drying is permitted.)

Rubber and Plastic Products

Those industries that produce liquid raw rubber for use in manufacturing carpet backing and other rubber products generate large quantities of sludge from wastewater treatment. The technology exists to reclaim the rubber for reuse, but an economically feasible system has not yet been developed to perform this function.

More than 120 companies now reclaim and recycle used plastics in Georgia. It is important to sort according to type and avoid contamination to obtain the best market price.

Fabricated Metals

Steel scrap comprises a great amount of the waste produced by this industry. To reduce the waste, the steel can be ordered in widths that match the parts produced. Scrap should be reused for other projects when possible. When several metals are used in one operation, scrap should be segregated by type and recycled. Metal shavings are often contaminated with oil during processing. Chip wringers can be purchased to wring out the oil for reuse and make the metal saleable.

Packaging waste consists of pallets, crating, drums, and cardboard – all of which can be returned or recycled. For companies with substantial amounts of cardboard, a baler should be considered because the price of baled cardboard is substantially higher than unbaled.

Printing and Publishing

A medium size printing company can easily fill a 40 cubic yard dumpster per day with process waste. Trim, start-up strips, end strips, or non-conforming product generated by companies that print newspapers, flyers, cereal boxes, and snack food bags are common solid waste, much of which is sent to the landfill. It is possible to recycle much of this material. It is also possible to reduce much of this waste by altering processes.

As disposal costs increase, discarded waste from one industry for reuse by another is becoming more common. For this reason, waste exchanges have been set up around the country. A waste exchange is a service which promotes the use of one company’s waste for another’s raw material. It publishes lists of wanted and available materials/wastes, amount and form of waste, and general geographic location. Waste exchanges can result in savings to the donor through reduced disposal costs, and to the recipient through reduced raw material charges. The following exchanges will handle material for companies located in the Southeast:

  • Southeast Waste Exchange – Charlotte, NC (704) 547-2767
  • Southern Waste Information Exchange – Tallahassee, FL 1-800-441-7949
  • National Materials Exchange Network – Spokane, WA (509) 466-1532

The biggest challenge to reducing waste is the ability of a company to sustain a commitment to a program. However, in the long run, solid waste reduction in industry will save money, improve efficiency, and preserve natural resources and landfill space. It’s obviously a win-win situation for both industry and the environment and worth pursuing.