Thirty-two percent. That’s how much municipal solid waste gets recycled or composted in the United States according to the EPA. This low number means that in the end-of-life stage of the product life cycle, landfills are used more often than more sustainable strategies such as reusing, recycling or energy recovery (e.g., burning the waste for energy). Relying too heavily on landfills leads to lost economic opportunities, methane and other gas emissions, wasted land space, as well as the pollution of soil, surface water and groundwater according to the European Environment Agency.
So, in 2020, when Nicholas Smith, Manufacturing Engineering Manager at Alert Labs, looked at the percentage of manufacturing waste that was being recycled during the production of cellular-connected IoT sensors for water and HVAC, one could argue that he could have been satisfied with Alert Labs’ recycling percentage of 73%. The rate was better than average. Good enough, right?
Not exactly. Nicholas and the manufacturing team wanted to shrink the remaining 27%. Diverting 73% of waste is like getting a grade of C on the recycling test and who wants that?
Cue the waste streams audit.
Over the course of a few weeks, Nicholas and the Alert Labs team began to categorize all the sources of manufacturing waste. After compiling an exhaustive list, the waste was grouped into 5 categories: Shipping Waste, Cardboard, Plastics, Injection Molded Plastics, and Other - waste to Landfill.
They weighed the amount of waste generated from each category and extrapolated those weights for the entire year to get a baseline measurement.
Armed with the knowledge of what types and how much waste was being generated, the search for outside help could begin.
There are numerous waste management companies that can recycle manufacturing waste and sell it to other businesses. Those businesses then turn the recycled waste into products such as flooring tiles, playground surface covers and more. Participating in these specialized recycling programs is often free. And even the potential costs associated with training staff on how to use the programs are minimal.
“The new processes for recycling more of our waste were super easy to adapt. The collection boxes for things like plastic wrap and label backing sit at each workstation. Instead of taking the waste and putting it in the garbage, we’re taking it and putting it in the zero waste box,” says Nicholas Smith, Manufacturing Engineering Manager.
After conducting the waste streams audit and implementing the new recycling procedures for 12 months, Alert Labs manufacturing increased the amount of waste recycled to 88% (or a B+)! But there is still room for improvement.
Alert Labs is actively looking for a waste management partner who can help the company get down to zero waste in manufacturing. Specifically, the following waste items account for the 12% of waste that is still going to landfills: polyethylene foam, EGE, and thermal transfer ribbon.
The company is also in the process of becoming a Certified B Corp. These recycling initiatives are all part of Alert Labs’ commitment to social and environmental performance that prioritizes people and our planet for the long term.
While there is progress to be made, Nicholas and the Alert Labs team are working towards a more sustainable materials management (SMM) approach to manufacturing which is better for the environment today and in the future. They’re bound to get an A+.
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