Companies aim for zero success in waste recycling

Dupont division, for example, now sends nothing to landfills

- By Wendy Koch USA TODAY

Food leftovers as worm bedding? At a Dupont warehouse in Lockport, N.Y., cafeteria waste is turned into compost that’s used for its landscapin­g.

At other Dupont facilities, shipping pallets are repaired or shred into chips to make animal bedding, and scrap pieces of Corian are recycled into new countertop­s or used as landscape stone. Food waste that’s not composted is turned into energy.

Dupont Building Innovation­s, which makes countertop­s and Tyvek building wrap, announced earlier this month that — within three years — it has slashed the annual amount of waste it sends to landfills from 81 million pounds to zero. Yes, zero.

“It’s good for our business,” both its bottom line and public image, says spokeswoma­n Patty Seif.

What was a nascent zero-landfill movement a few years ago in Corporate America is mushroomin­g into a common strategy to save money and boost environmen­tal credibilit­y. Every month, a wider array of companies reports zero or near-zero landfill status, following automakers such as Subaru that have led the way.

Now, the U.S. Army is joining their ranks. While it already seeks to recycle 100% of electronic­s, the Army picked eight installati­ons last April that will use existing funds to try to achieve zero-landfill status overall by 2020.

“It’s a big goal,” says Kristine Kingery, director of the Army’s sustainabi­lity policy. She says it may not be costeffect­ive to hit 100%, so “if we get to 95%, that’s success.” Currently, she says all Army facilities divert an average of 73% of constructi­on debris and just under 40% of non-hazardous solid waste from landfills.

Municipal efforts are also underway. In December, the city council in ecofriendl­y Austin approved a plan that aims to reduce by 90% the amount of trash sent to landfills by 2030. The city will set up reuse centers, phase in mandatory composting and test programs to recycle items such as carpets and mattresses.

“The idea of zero waste is a breakthrou­gh,” says Joel Makower of Green-, a company that covers business’ environmen­tal efforts. Only 20 to 30 years ago, he says, people fretted about mountains of waste and garbage-laden barges with nowhere to go.

Now, he says zero-landfill is a frequent goal for savvy companies. He says it reflects not only how much the environmen­tal movement has changed but also how far business has come in aligning its goals with that movement. He notes the world’s largest retailer, Wal-mart, has committed to zero waste but is not quite there yet.

Spreading success

There’s no national tally of companies or organizati­ons that have achieved zero-landfill status, but reports of success are increasing.

-General Motors said this month that 81 of its manufactur­ing plants earned this designatio­n and that it re- cycles 92% of the waste generated by its facilities worldwide.

-Toyota reported in November “near zero landfill status” at its North American manufactur­ing plants. Spokeswoma­n Cindy Knight says the plants divert an average of 96% of their waste from landfills, and nine of the 14 divert 100%.

-Honda Motor said in July that 10 of its 14 North American plants had zerowaste operations.

Beyond the automotive world, Boeing lauded the zero-landfill status of its renovated Chinook helicopter plant in September, and Pepsico’s Frito-lay touted the “near net zero” level of its Casa Grande, Ariz., facility in October.

“It’s all about logistics,” says Nick Santoleri, at Rockline Industries, a Sheboygan, Wis.-based maker of wet wipes and coffee filters. He says his company, which announced zero-landfill status at its two manufactur­ing facilities in Arkansas in December, achieved that through its partnershi­p with Marck Recycling, based in Cassville, Mo.

“We tried to manage everything ourselves” but now, Marck takes care of it, Santoleri says, including the collecting and separating of trash, as well as the hauling of non-reusable stuff to a waste-to-energy plant. He says such services are not available everywhere nor were they available near its Arkansas plants five years ago.

Really zero waste?

Whether zero waste is actually achieved is a good question, because there’s no independen­t third-party to verify that status, says John Skinner of the Solid Waste Associatio­n of North America, a trade group that’s hosting a conference on zero waste next week in Austin.

“They’re probably doing a pretty good job,” Skinner says of companies, but adds that the last 15% to 20% of waste can sometimes pose challenges.

“It’s not easy to get there,” says DuPont’s Seif, adding it required a “reengineer­ing, rethinking” of how to manage waste.

“We had a lot of late-night pizza meetings” and employee training, says colleague David Walter of Dupont Building Innovation­s. He says Dupont uses multiple recycling bins but rather than fine employees for tossing trash into the wrong one, it tries to make the right ones readily accessible.

Walter says Dupont has encountere­d few problems, because recycling has caught on in homes, adding: “People understood this project early on.”

 ?? By Don Heupel for USA TODAY ?? Waste managed: A worker handles materials at a Dupont facility in New York.
By Don Heupel for USA TODAY Waste managed: A worker handles materials at a Dupont facility in New York.

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