Greenlighting Sustainabilty

Features - Industry Report

Recyclers are helping a variety of companies address sustainability issues.

April 11, 2012
Curt Harler

Many recyclers have established offices, or even entire divisions, to work with corporate customers on ways to reduce the volume of trash they generate.

The benefits of such programs are many. Recyclers can augment the flow of material through their processing lines, while their clients get to boast about how “green” they are. Add the benefit to society as a whole, and it is easy to see why many recyclers claim a win-win-win with their sustainability programs.

The heart of such programs is a waste stream evaluation, which can help clients see the economic and environmental benefits associated with diverting material from landfills. “We want to show clients that it is a good business decision,” says Neil Gloger, president of InterGroup International, Euclid, Ohio. “Any program like this has to be economically sustainable,” he adds.

“We direct items for reduction, reuse [and] then recovery,” says Bruce Westaway, director of Recovery …PlusTM for Cascades Recovery, Toronto. He says Recovery ...Plus finds that the generator, typically, has already attempted to reduce packaging as one solution. “After all, packaging is a cost to them,” he notes.

Recovery ...Plus finds that its clients request to divert more of their discarded materials from landfill. “The simplest way to achieve this goal is to assess and analyze the weight and volume of materials generated for discard,” Westaway says.

“With respect to Recovery, if a discarded material cannot be recovered, we will work with the generator to identify the reasons and, if possible, suggest a change to make the material recyclable,” he adds.

Green Plant 21 has partnered with Kanemiya Co. Ltd. of Japan as sole North American distributor of the Kanemiya 1545 and Kanemiya 603, machines designed to clean contaminated plastic.

“Some companies do not realize they can repurpose waste product X as a commodity that can be made into something new in a way that the dollars make sense,” says Steve Sutta, CEO of Green Planet 21, Oakland, Calif. He points to one firm’s challenge handling plastic barrels. The barrels were being treated as toxic waste and sent to a hazardous waste landfill.

“Today, these barrels are being reused and reprocessed into new products,” Sutta says. He’s proud to add that those new products are being made right here in the United States.

“We help customers look at all aspects of their business models so they can implement better handling strategies, better equipment and train people in new methods,” adds Andrea Callard, media producer with Green Planet 21.

“Scale helps,” says Robert Render, CEO of A Greener Solution, Zion, Ill. This is because implementing the programs, training employees, placing equipment and handling logistics can be a major investment. “Our program works at all size facilities, but the return on investment may take longer at smaller ones,” he adds.

“The approach applies to all sectors and sizes of operations,” Westaway agrees, noting that if the area lacks route density or generates smaller volumes of material for collection, the cost can become prohibitive.

Six years ago, Render was president of Maine Plastics, a large post-industrial plastics recycling company with 11 plants in the United States.

“We created A Greener Solution because our suppliers and customers asked us to do more to help them reduce landfilling and increase recycling,” he says. “This approach has helped us secure a supply of recyclables for Maine Plastics while helping clients reduce their costs.” Render adds, “Now we work with recycling partners across North America.”

The focus is on reducing waste and recovering recyclables. “One leads to the other,” Render explains. “We first look at what materials are being landfilled and what can be diverted to recycling. We then help clients realign their trash services to the new levels to make sure they have the appropriate service level,” he continues. “Then we look at what’s left to see if waste to energy is cost effective to go to zero landfill.”

What Works
Such programs find many recyclable materials can be diverted cost effectively at the source. Green Planet 21 says it has developed solutions for 70 Fortune 500 companies, eliminating the need to landfill material. “Our ability to design custom recycling solutions for scrap previously thought to be nonrecyclable is proven,” says Brian Eagan, recycling solutions specialist for Green Planet 21.

About four years ago, the company began to expand the way it works with clients to increase their understanding of environmental sustainability and to reduce their carbon footprints.

“We realized that customers were more willing to recycle and work on reducing their carbon footprints when it meant they could reduce their costs for waste [disposal],” he explains. “By helping them understand how to look upstream, we help them save money.”

A Greener Solution commonly handles LDPE (low-density polyethylene), OCC (old corrugated containers), strapping and other packaging materials for its clients.

“Complex parts or nonsalable goods require additional processing and planning,” Render says.

Eagan says Green Planet 21 focuses on hard-to-handle material or waste streams that clients have given up on. “After we solve these [problems], we talk about the easy stuff,” he says.

When the chips are down

Atlantis Casino, Reno, Nev., faced a challenging task: It needed to securely destroy and replace $40 million worth of plastic-coated metal poker chips and wanted to do so in an environmentally friendly fashion. The kicker was that the company required a secure solution; Atlantis could not risk potential fraudulent use of its old chips.

Green Planet 21, based in Oakland, Calif., installed a low-speed cutter on site to cut the chips in half. The chips were then sent to an off-site shredder, which ground them.

The bottom line: $40 million worth of poker chips were destroyed at an equipment cost of $35,000. The scrap metal was recovered and then sold for $22,500, reducing the net cost of the entire project to only $12,500.

The destruction of the chips was not only cost-effective but also eco-friendly, as the metal from the chips was recovered for recycling.

The company’s current focus is on the processing of contaminated plastics, including rigid material and film. “We believe we are the only recycling company with a highly efficient way to clean contaminated plastics, making them recyclable. In a lot of cases, the material removed from [the plastics] can also now be recycled or converted into something useful,” Eagan says.

Westaway says any company that generates a large volume of any material probably is recovering that material already. The materials that remain are generated in smaller volumes and may be more costly to recover, he adds.

“By taking as many materials as possible [for recycling] the total volume can offset the cost,” he says. Some of these materials include plastics (film and rigid), metals, wood, electronics, organics and used beverage containers (UBCs).

These programs are practical for large operations but they also work with small offices and multi-family units, such as apartment complexes, too. Callard says recyclers should not overlook municipalities, either.

Cost-Benefit Analysis
“Unless there is an economic reason to change, nobody is going to do this,” Gloger says of environmental sustainability programs. In Europe, public policy and penalty taxes drive recycling programs. In the U.S., however, without such directives, most sustainability programs have to be based on economics.

InterGroup International focuses on recycling post-industrial plastics. Gloger points to an InterGroup customer in Wisconsin who no longer has a single dumpster on site. The only trash the 250,000-square-foot operation generates is some cafeteria waste, he says.

Ninety percent of plastic scrap buyers want single-commodity truckloads of material, Gloger says. However, InterGroup International will accept less-than-truckload volumes of individual materials. “We tell customers to throw all their scrap on the same truck and we will accumulate it and process it at our facility so they don’t have to store it,” he says.

In the case of the “toxic” plastic barrels handled by Green Planet 21, it took six months for the firm to provide a solution. “We cut their costs by 80 percent,” Sutta says. In addition, the company says it cut its client’s hydrocarbon footprint and allayed its legal concerns.

“If our client cannot measure the impact of our program, it is hard to justify what we are doing,” Callard says. Green Planet 21 tailors a solution for each client and then presents it in terms of equipment installed, tonnage moved and dollars saved.

With the help of High Desert Recycling, one of Green Planet 21’s service providers, International Game Technology, the parent company of Atlantis Casino in Reno, Nev., has been able to recycle 80 percent of the plastic generated in all three of its Reno facilities. (See sidebar, “When the Chips Are Down,” p. 170.)

“Working with our customers, we can often cut the amount of labor needed to handle the recyclable materials,” Callard says.

Green Planet 21 also tries to cut the number of trips required to transport the recyclables. “Cutting labor and freight, in some cases, can reduce costs anywhere from $25,000 up to $500,000 or more per year.”

“We are very inventive recyclers,” Callard says, adding that one client equates the company with aspirin. “When they have a headache, they use us.”

A Greener Solution provides prospective clients with a cost-benefit analysis to prove the value of its services and to help convince the waste generator to participate.

“We create a baseline of current waste costs and recycling,” Render explains. A Greener Solution then projects increases in recycling revenue to show potential savings. Those savings or income figures are often too significant to ignore, Render says. “We then provide a detailed proposal that highlights the potential hard and soft savings,” he adds.

Today, A Greener Solution is managing more than 350 million pounds of byproducts at more than 150 facilities. “The average improvement in recycling rates is 50 percent,” he says. Dollar savings are more difficult to quantify, Render notes.

Westaway suggests measuring cost savings against the existing method for handling the material (generally including disposal and collection charges). The cost of the current path is compared with the value of recovering that material for recycling or reuse, plus the value of being environmentally responsible. “All factor into assisting the generator in making the correct decision for the material,” he explains.

Where to Start
Westaway finds that reactions to his company’s proposals are generally positive. Recovery … Plus’ approach addresses clients’ goals in realizing zero waste. Typically, the company approaches a client’s management level employees and, if the position exists at the company, also the sustainability manager.

He says not all business owners roll out a red carpet when the company makes its first pitch.

“Often, we start with one facility working with a team that includes facilities, purchasing, production and finance,” Render says. With success, those new programs are referred up the corporate chain quickly. We have been approached by executives for a corporate-wide program. That approach almost always starts with pilot programs,” he adds.

“Every situation is unique,” Callard says. “A receptive mind can be found in any position, and people at various levels sometimes influence one another in unpredictable ways,” she adds.


The author is a freelance writer based in Cleveland and can be contacted at