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Sunday, August 11, 2013

Source-Separation Key to Maximum Recycling PROFITS

Baled cardboard ready
for sale
Astute industry leaders know zero waste practices improve the bottom line and material source-separation maximizes bottom line improvement. As moderate to major material generators shift from single-stream recycling systems to on-site source-separation, companies eliminate single-stream hauling charges and receive revenue for sold material, often in the form of rebates. Result: improved bottom lines!

Note large generators with "clean" single-stream recycling collection negotiate a "no-charge" scenario for material hauling. Due to the significant material volume, these companies realize substantial bottom line improvement by source-separating material for sale, even without cost reductions. In addition, valuable plastic film is considered a containment in single-stream collection. Thus, many industrial operations are paying landfill charges to dispose of a valuable material instead of baling it for sale. 

An Elemental Impact team converged on Indianapolis August 01 & 02 for zero waste facility tours hosted by Piazza Produce and Heritage Interactive Services. The two-day tours substantiated the imperative role on-site MRFs - material recovery facilities - play in profitable recycling programs.

simple, on-site MRF
At the on-site MRFs, material is source-separated and baled (or otherwise aggregated) for sale to a manufacturing company as raw material or in the commodities market. The increased labor is more than offset by cost-savings and revenue and equipment purchases generally have an impressive ROI - return on investment.

For the first tour, Zero Waste Warrior Scott Lutocka - Piazza Produce facility manager - hosted the Ei group at the only zero waste foodservice distribution center in the nation. The following day the group traveled to the Subaru Automotive of Indiana zero waste manufacturing plant in Lafayette where Interactive is responsible for their groundbreaking zero waste program.

The tour festivities began with an excellent lunch at Ted's Montana Grill. Doug Kunnemann - Sustainable Food Court Initiative co-chair and Natureworks Global Segment Leader, Food Service - joined Ei founder Holly Elmore along with Fred Wellons and Clark Seydel of Chemol to strategize on first action and educational steps in alternative coatings for paraffin-based wax coated produce cardboard boxes.

Doug, Fred, Clark & Scott
@ Ted's for lunch
In Indy for the tours, Paula Owens - TMG purchasing and sustainability manager, joined the lunch when not meeting with the restaurant team. TMG may take a leadership role in shifting produce packaging standards to recyclable and | or compostable containers. The ZWA Blog post, Waxed Cardboard = Landfill Destiny = $$ Lost, is an overview of a 2012 National Restaurant Show educational session dedicated to the waxed cardboard scenario.

An enthusiastic team from ScottsMiracleGro corporate offices in Marysville, OH joined the Ei group for the Indy Tours.  

After a pre-tour educational meeting on current waxed cardboard practices, the official tours began with Scott's overview of Piazza's zero waste journey, complete with props. The ZWA Blog post, Zero Waste is a Team Sport, details the Piazza journey from a prior tour.

Pallet of shrink wrap
The Piazza mini-MRF was a tour focal point where gaylords are used to collect separated materials for baling. Creative and thorough, Scott's diligent research found useful homes for most of the material generated during operations; material evolved from costing Piazza landfill hauling and tipping charges to generating revenue (or at least no disposal cost.)

In their operations, Piazza Produce receives and uses a significant amount of shrink wrap that secures products on pallets. Shrink wrap is a valuable commodity, with rebate revenue rivaling cardboard. Scott worked with his supplier to purchase pre-stretched wrap by the pallet. By purchasing pre-stretched wrap, Scott eliminated in-house waste from unusable ends. In addition, Scott implemented standard practices where drivers bring back wrap used on customer pallets, rather than disposing of it in a convenient dumpster. Close to 100% of shrink wrap purchased is baled for recycling.

Scott one of his IS2 poster
with metrics summarized in graphs
During the tour wrap-up meeting, Scott quantified the Piazza Produce zero waste program profitability. As an Interactive IS2 client, Scott has easy access to his program's volume and monetary metrics summarized in impressive, self-explanatory graphs. A future blog post on the importance of metrics tracking will give detailed examples of the IS2 platform.

Dinner at The Rathskeller was an excellent venue to continue dialogue in a relaxed, fun environment. It was an early evening as the group headed to Lafayette the following morning for the Subaru tour. Paula remained in Indy to meet with TMG purveyors.

The August 2013 tour was the third Ei Subaru visit hosted by Interactive. In July 2012 Interactive hosted the inaugural Ei Partner Tours that included the first Subaru tour. The IMPACT Blog post, Ei Partner Tours Launch in Indy, is an Indy Ei Partner Tours' overview. In September 2012 an Ei Team visited Subaru to learn about their foodservice operations and on-site in-vessel composting system.

Doug with Michael Gulich &
Bob Guptill of Purdue
Purdue University folks joined the Ei group for the August 2013 Subaru tour. Due to the group size, the tour was via the extensive catwalk system and gave a different perspective from prior tours. At the tour's end, a smaller group of the Purdue and ScottsMiracleGro folks, along with Holly, were treated to an on-the-ground MRF visit.

The Interactive-operated MRF is the backbone of the Subaru recycling profit center. With over 3,000 employees in the 2.3 million-square foot facility, the Subaru plant generates a significant amount of material. At the in-house MRF, material received is weighed and cataloged by work station for Subaru internal analysis. It was inspiring to witness the efficient, well-organized MRF in operation.

After the MRF tour, the entire Ei group met at a local Irish pub for a wonderful lunch, a perfect ending to an action-packed two days. The group returned to their respective hometowns with new industry friends and resources.

For a tours' pictorial recap, visit the Ei FB album, 08-13 Indy Zero Waste Tours.

Ei Industry Tours are excellent vehicles to learn first-hand about zero waste success via experiential education. Common ground in the 2013 Indy Tours was the imperative role on-site material source-separation plays in maximizing recycling center profits while maintaining Recycling Integrity - maintaining maximum material value with minimal energy expended. Validation was complete by witnessing similar results at a moderate material generator: Piazza Produce and a major generator: Subaru Automotive of Indiana.

Scott & Holly @
2013 USZWBC Conference 
Another common ground for the tours was the U.S. Zero Waste Business Council 2013 Conference hosted in Cincinnati. Scott, Holly and Amy Moreland of Interactive were conference speakers and met attendee Cheryl Prinster of Scotts on the first day. The tour materialized from conference conversation when Cheryl joined the Ei dinner. For overviews of the powerful USZWBC conference, visit the following three posts:  Know Your Trash Up Close & PersonalZero Waste Success Requires WE Consciousness, and Zero Waste is a Team Sport, a powerful USZWBC conference panel.

There is no destination in the zero waste journey. Industry leaders continue to refine their practices with a goal of zero waste evolving to NO WASTE, emulating nature's perfection.


  1. Holly, your passion is contagious! And as you've illustrated, simplicity is often Key in obtaining overall success regarding sustainability efforts! Let's hope others will soon follow suit by contacting Ei!

    1. Thanks Scott! Ei's important work is only possible with the unwavering support of Zero Waste Warriors like yourself, dedicated to integrity and always willing to evolve systems to the next dimension. Thank YOU! Holly