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Operations: Manufacturers Say Goodbye to Landfills

Dec. 17, 2012
Improving quality is the first line of defense against paying landfill fees.

Honda Motor Co. (IW 1000/30) announced in July that 10 of its 14 manufacturing plants in North America had achieved zero-waste-to-landfill status. Hershey Co. (IW 500/170) in February reported that three of its Pennsylvania plants had reached that milestone as well. 

Performance-fabric manufacturer Glen Raven has three U.S. facilities that have gone landfill-free, and the company was "locking the dumpster" at a fourth this month, according to Randy Blackston, vice president of operations at Glen Raven Custom Fabrics, a business unit of the parent company. A new facility in an existing structure undergoing a complete renovation will begin operations as a landfill-free location, he says.

See Also: Operations Management Strategy & Best Practices

In recent years a growing number of manufacturers have announced or achieved initiatives to lower the amount of waste they send to landfills -- or to eliminate landfill dependence altogether. The environmental benefits of such efforts are readily apparent, but other business benefits -- like the dollars not spent to pay landfill fees or the dollars generated by finding buyers for the waste -- should not be overlooked. 

Glen Raven's continuous-improvement culture's first line of defense against paying landfill fees is simply to not create waste in the first place. In the manufacturing space, that means steadily improving quality to generate less waste. "Our off-quality is a fraction of what it was 20 years ago," Blackston says. 

The company also minimizes disposables at all levels and encourages employees to do the same. Glen Raven has developed value-added waste streams for everything. Examples among its facilities include: 

  • The company has placed cornstarch-based bags and lidded containers in the canteen to collect food scraps at its Anderson, S.C., plant. Those materials are moved to an on-site composting location every shift and ultimately are used to help fertilize the 180-acre site.
  • Everything that can be recycled or reclaimed, is. That includes oil, pallets, plastics and corrugated boards. One brand of fabric it produces, Sunbrella Renaissance, is composed in part of recycled Sunbrella fiber.
  • A small percentage of Glen Raven's waste becomes a component in wastewater treatment -- the result of the company doing its research to determine who is buying the types of waste streams it is generating.

"There are folks paying premium dollars" for waste, Blackston says.

For manufacturers just beginning an effort to reclaim and repurpose waste, Blackston suggests the following: Start with your most expensive waste items and consider how they can be repurposed; then pursue the "no-brainers," the obvious easy-to-recycle products in your facilities.

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