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Sunday, 20 July 2014 18:55

User group sparks collaboration across industries in the name of sustainability

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As more local companies look to drive profitability with Zero Waste to Landfill (ZWL) programs, many are finding the road to recycling ROI paved with troublesome materials.

A new user group organized by the Michigan Manufacturing Technology Center – West hopes to help corporations find solutions to the waste materials that cause the most headaches: powder coat paint, mixed wood and sandpaper.

Formed in 2013, the group assists local manufacturers in finding alternative disposal methods for these troublesome waste products by working across multiple industries, said Bill Stough, president of the Sustainable Research Group LLC in Grand Rapids, which helped facilitate the user group.

The group has about 12 members, combining small- and medium-sized manufacturers with the likes of Haworth Inc. and Herman Miller Inc, Stough said. While the furniture manufacturers are pursuing ZWL goals included in the ANSI/BIFMA e3 furniture sustainability standard, the user group also includes companies spanning industries from printing to the automotive supply chain, Stough said.

The mix of company sizes and industries is helping foster a trusting, collaborative environment, he said.

“Sometimes, we have people who are willing to share failures so people don’t make the same mistake and head down the same path,” Stough said.

The majority of user group members have already had considerable success with developing internal recycling programs for materials such as paper, corrugated cardboard and food waste, Stough said. But many face challenges in locating recycling sources for a few materials common across the manufacturing sector.

“A lot of the low-hanging fruit in the manufacturing industry has been worked on,” Stough said. “To meet total ZWL, the last 10 percent is typically the most difficult and expensive.”

The experienced participants in the user group also help the other members by sharing potential recycling outlets for their waste streams, said Bill Gurn, facilities maintenance manager at Haworth, which met its zero waste to landfill goal for global operations in 2012.

“Ten years ago, we held our recycling sources close to our heart and we didn’t tell anybody,” Gurn said. “Today, we are pretty open with most of it.”

The group concentrates the majority of its effort on finding recycling sources for powder coat, mixed wood (wood containing adhesives, plastics and other chemicals), and sandpaper, Stough said.

The powder coat paint issues cross multiple industries and are particularly acute since only about 50 percent of the product sticks to the part when it’s applied, Stough said. However, few recycling centers handle powder paint waste, and smaller companies do not aggregate enough waste to make it worth their while.

To help solve this, Haworth has partnered with smaller companies in the user group, allowing them to ship scrap paint to Haworth’s facilities for disposal, Gurn said. This not only makes life easier for smaller manufacturers, but also enlarges Haworth’s total scrap powder coat supply, making it more marketable to the recycler.

Insight into proven and efficient waste disposal methods combined with new resources for waste streams from well-established companies has proven invaluable to the smaller operations, said Ryan Smith, continuous improvement engineer at Landscape Forms Inc.

“To have Haworth and Herman Miller in the same room sharing information is unheard of,” Smith said.

The user group works closely with regional recycling companies and researchers to develop innovative methods that turn hard-to-recycle waste products into inexpensive raw materials for other companies to use, Stough said. The group is currently in the process of developing processes to eliminate sandpaper waste by incorporating it into other products that require grit, such as roofing materials.

“The ideal solution would be to find solutions locally so we can send those materials to an entrepreneur who can do something with them and create a new business,” Stough said.

The user group’s push to avoid sending offal to the landfill represents a growing trend among manufacturers looking to trim operations and recoup waste costs, Gurn said. Instead of paying to have waste buried in the ground, companies may choose to sell it back to recycling companies to offset costs and, at times, even make money.

Haworth earns approximately $2 million a year in revenue from its entire recycling program, Gurn told MiBiz.

“Recycling is good for what we’ll call the ‘tree-hugging’ side. But on the flip side, bottom line, this is very good for business,” Gurn said.

The next step for companies like Haworth is to incorporate data amassed from recycling programs into supply side changes and further reduce the waste stream, thereby increasing profits by avoiding the creation of waste in the first place, Gurn said.

“There is life after being landfill-free, as far as I’m concerned,” he said.

Read 3191 times Last modified on Wednesday, 13 August 2014 10:38

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