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Waste=Revenue business paradigm

Marc Lefkowitz  |  03/30/09 @ 9:14am

Call it what you will-waste=revenue, industrial by-product symbiosis, closing the loop, recycling-it's a new spin on an old adage: A ton saved is a ton earned. "Convention economics was take-make-waste," says E4S founder Holly Harlan. "Originally we thought of waste as a cost, now we see waste is a second product."

The manufacturers and service-based companies gathered at E4S' Zero Waste Network last week swapped case studies and figured out what closing the loop might look like.

Mark Schwerdtfeger explained how waste=revenue works, and how he was able to bring lessons to Heinz that saved the prepared food company's Massillon division hundreds of thousands of dollars. Schwerdtfeger closed his first loop at GoJo, where he figured out how to save the soap dispenser manufacturer a bundle in waste tipping fees.

Looking for a second life for GoJo's shrink wrap and other plastic waste, he asked neighbor Little Tykes if they could use it as a feedstock for toy production. It turns out they could: 100 playgrounds a year are made from grinding down GoJo's plastic waste. Next, he tackled GoJo's soap waste-repackaging it for the Akron-Canton Foodbank as a $200,000 charitable donation.

Schwerdtfeger brought the same energy to Heinz where he convinced executives to stop spraying food coloring in sauce production runs, which made it possible to get FDA approval to donate instead of pour down the drain the daily overrun of sauce to local pig farmers who use it in their own prepared food. What convinced his bosses to let him try closing the loop? "Find out what they're spending in their waste stream and show them how this saves them money ? this saved Heinz $300,000 on their bottom line."

Or, put another way, that same $300,000 would take $3 million in sales to clear that on your bottom line, Harlan adds.

E4S shared lessons from a study to close a loop at the Cleveland Water Department. How to turn tons of waste clay-the suspended silt in the water pumped from Lake Erie ? into a usable product? Clay is typically a by-product of coal mining, so, most brick makers, etc. are located within a mile or two of a mine. Can we attract a brick or kitty litter company that views the Lake as its 'mine' for waste clay? asked Jen Hilman, who helped E4S conduct the study.

The inefficient arrangement now has the Water Department paying the power bill and for more fresh water to pump the clay sludge removed from drinking water through a giant underground pipe to the Sewer District which removes the clay from the water again and burns it to make fly ash which it pays to have disposed in a landfill.

Hearing that story, Kurtz Bros. declared that it's already inquired with the Sewer District about buying some clay as a soil additive. "Maybe we need to go directly to the Water Department, instead. We would also buy some fly ash." A connection made.

Karen Wan shared some of the 80 waste=revenue case studies from the organization she helped lead, the Chicago Waste to Profit Network. The group was funded through an EPA grant and staffed to help, for example, a glass manufacturer send its waste glass to a counter top manufacturer, which crushes it into counter products. They helped Abbott, a giant chemical manufacturer, move sodium chloride, a waste product, into an input for AccelorMittal Steel. Sherwin-Williams in Chicago has a zero waste initiative (Wan didn't offer details beyond that they 'share' seasonal workers with GE). Chicago has a coal-fired power plant that is now reusing its own fly ash in (the concrete) of their construction projects. They've led members of the network to conduct their own carbon footprint analysis.

"We are now part of the Chicago Climate Action Network-it's a big climate change strategy. We know which (waste streams) are most effective in reducing the impact to the region's carbon footprint-paper and cotton are two of the most carbon intensive."

Wan then lead the Northeast Ohio Zero Waste Network through a 'wants and needs' exercise. Some potential connections were made. PSI might take hardwood pallets from Talan Products' and convert them to wood pellets. "We're seeing a rise in demand for waste wood especially to serve college campuses for wood-fired boilers."

Many waste streams are thornier-either there's no market, no product in R&D, or companies deem it too expensive to recycle into a product. Those might be the focus of special discussions within the Zero Waste Network, Harlan said.

Other opportunities for Cleveland include recycling carpet from the 1,000 homes slated for demolition into new carpet tiles (a potential connection between Interface, the maker of carpet tiles from recycled plastic and old carpet, and community development organizations in wards dealing with foreclosures).

"We need to build a regional industrial ecosystem between small and mid-sized industry like they have in Kalunborg, Denmark," Wan said. "We're part of the Green Jobs economy ? we're page 167 in Van Jones' paper."

The Chicago Waste to Revenue Network was the first in the country to set goals and track metrics-they had 40 companies participating, and hit their goal of 22,000 tons of waste diverted from the landfill in 2008. Not only did the group calculate the savings-$6 million-they also found a 1:1 correlation between a ton of solid waste diverted and a ton of CO2 emissions averted.

On June 18, Wan will lead a workshop on building capacity throughout the Midwest-to help replicate Chicago's success in cities like Cleveland. She is convinced the carbon footprint analysis alone could make the Northeast Ohio Zero Waste Network fundable.

To see pictures and more go to this link on the zerowasteneo.org site.

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