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9/27/2015 | 4 MINUTE READ

Achieving Zero Waste: Two Processors Prove It’s Possible

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Working with an Ohio-based recycler, two film and sheet processors go landfill-free.

There are three things certain in life: death, taxes, and waste. In 2013, Americans generated about 254 million tons of trash, according to the most recent statistics from the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA). About 30% of that is recycled. If you take a glass-half-full approach, the only way to go is up when it comes to recycling rates, right?

Industrial recycler Green Innovations takes the optimism one step further, envisioning a world where zero waste to landfill is the norm. The company believes its business model brings a realistic and cost-effective approach to recycling the waste that is generated at manufacturing plants.

“When we came up with the landfill-free concept, we actually got laughed at. No one believed it was a possibility,” says David Sweeney, partner and sales manager for Green Innovations, Solon, Ohio. “Fast-forward to today, and now other companies are copying our business model.”

Achieving zero waste to landfill sounds like an environmentalist’s dream, but it is happening—not because the company found some magic solution to eliminating trash, but by helping processors implement a three-step program that requires a multi-faceted approach and accountability, Sweeney says. For instance, Green Innovations will start with an audit at the facility to review what is being collected as well as the landfill, compactor, and hauling costs. Sweeney says that as soon as the landfill-free program has started at a facility, the company recommends an end date to ensure the program is completed.

Green Innovations handles a variety of waste streams, including facility debris, single-stream recyclables, and food waste. The company offers solutions for all waste generated at an industrial level, specifically plastic scrap and leftover raw materials, as well as cardboard, consumer waste, and other waste headed to a landfill. For products that are customarily non-recyclable, Green Innovations says that its partnerships allow it to process these materials and keep them from the landfill. The company says non-traditional materials can be turned into environmentally friendly fuel for use by other industries.

Once a facility has achieved landfill-free status, Green Innovations will certify the location as 100% landfill-free. Plastics Technology checked in with two processors that are currently working toward landfill-fee status to learn more about the process. 

Headquartered in Atlanta, Printpack is a privately held manufacturer of flexible and specialty film and sheet for packaging. The company operates 22 manufacturing facilities in the U.S., Mexico, and China. Camilo Cruz, senior environmental specialist, said the company tries to reduce waste going to landfill by recycling whenever possible, but saw a need to expand its waste-minimization initiatives.

Printpack started to work with Green Innovations, and the plan is to fully implement the landfill-free program at its New Castle, Del., facility in 2016, with the goal to achieve a landfill-free status that year as well.

Cruz said that the main challenge to achieving that landfill-free status is the resources required to implement the program. This includes the funds, personnel time, and planning to ensure the required changes can happen effectively at the plant level.

In addition, the process of going landfill-free includes finding options for waste streams that have little value from a recycling standpoint—for example, composting cafeteria wastes, utilizing low-value film waste as engineered fuel, or incinerating plant wastes for energy recovery. 

“Money investments in the landfill-free program will not be substantial, although significant time will be required to modify plant work flows so that wastes can be segregated and collected in preparation for offsite management,” Cruz states.

He said that sending no waste to landfill will provide cost savings as well as supporting the company’s sustainability goals. Printpack plans to implement the landfill-free initiative eventually at all its facilities.

Peter Globke, shipping and warehouse manager at Fredman Bag, a Milwaukee-based printer and converter of flexible packaging films, said the company follows the standard “Reduce, reuse, and recycle” model. First, the company works to reduce the usage of materials that may add to its waste stream. 

Secondarily, employees try to reuse as many materials as possible. Everything from simply reusing pallets or excess raw materials for other purposes, to recapturing spent resources and materials, can make a difference to the environment and the company’s profitability. The third and final approach is through recycling.

Still, Fredman Bag knew there was more that could be done, and so the company began working with Green Innovations in early 2015. There are several reasons Fredman Bag decided to aim for zero landfill: It’s good for the environment; many of its customers see it as value added; it provides cost savings; and “as an organization, we felt it was the responsible thing to do,” Globke notes.

Since the company already had a comprehensive recycling program in place, the employees didn’t run into any problems in working toward a landfill-free plant, he said.
“The process of going landfill-free was quite painless,” says Globke. “Other than a few planning meetings and discussions, we changed out a few trash bins with recycling bins and did a few short training sessions with our employees. Green Innovations provided us with all of the bins and supplies we needed and even helped with the training, so the only investment we made was time.”

In August, Fredman Bag began the final stage of the program and is no longer sending any of its waste to landfill, Globke says. The company expects to be fully certified as landfill-free this year.