Heavy Metal Meltdown

Heavy Metal Meltdown

Manufacturers are realizing cost savings by participating in an EPA waste-reduction program.

The Columbus, Neb., operations of $2.29 billion Malvern, Pa.-based semiconductor manufacturer Vishay Intertechnology Inc. has figured out a way to get the lead out -- or at least some of it. By the end of the year the facility, known as Vishay Dale Electronics, plans to eliminate 410 pounds of lead it uses to manufacture electronic resistors.

Vishay Dale is participating in the Environmental Protection Agency's (EPA) National Partnership for Environmental Priorities (NPEP) program, which recognizes manufacturing facilities and government municipalities for reducing the use or release of 31 federally designated priority chemicals. NPEP falls under the umbrella of the EPA's National Waste Minimization Program.

With more environmental regulations, such as the European Union's Reduction of Hazardous Substances Directive (RoHS), requiring companies to cut or eliminate certain substances from their manufacturing processes, NPEP can offer manufacturers an opportunity to publicize their waste-reduction efforts through EPA recognition and local media attention.

That's one of the reasons Vishay Dale is participating, says Gay Deamer, the facility's environmental health and safety manager. "Because we were reducing lead anyway as part of RoHS, we felt that it was important to advertise the fact that we are doing what we can to improve the environment," Deamer says.

For other manufacturers, the most significant payoff is the ability to reduce costs associated with hazardous waste. Jim Berlow, director of the EPA's hazardous waste minimization and management division, cites International Truck and Engine Corp.'s Springfield, Ohio, facility where the company makes medium-duty trucks as taking one of the more innovative cost-saving waste-reduction approaches.

International Truck and Engine Corp. employee Pat Hogan repairs a dent at the Springfield, Ohio, operations using a device that eliminates the use of lead solder.
In 2000, the facility substituted lead solder for a dent-pulling device similar to those used in auto body repair shops to mend damaged truck cabs, says Tim McDaniel, environmental health and safety manager for International's Springfield operations. The result was an annual savings of about $125,000 in parts and manpower, he says, though the company has since moved into a more high-tech facility where repairs are now less frequent.

Likewise, Osram Sylvania Products Inc.'s automotive lighting operations in Hillsboro, N.H., achieved savings by reducing lead from its glass. "It was part of our own inclination to eliminate lead for simplicity internally and then also our customer mandates both here and in Europe," says Osram Sylvania plant manager Ben Soucy. The result, according to the EPA, has been a savings of about $37,100 annually by being able to recycle the now nonleaded glass versus having to pay to dispose the leaded glass.

But the process wasn't an overnight switch, Soucy explains. "We're talking about technologies and products that in this case are as many as 20 or 25 years old, so making any kind of a significant material change has a lot of difficulties to it," he says. The company studied switching to nonleaded glass for 10 to 15 years before actually implementing the change in 2005, Soucy adds. It also became more feasible as customers started demanding it.

For more information about the EPA's Waste Minimization programs, including how to participate in NPEP, visit www.epa.gov/wastemin.

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