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Putting Waste To Work

Mon, 08/22/2011 - 6:20am

With today’s increased environmental regulations and highly educated consumers demanding unprecedented eco-accountability, companies are being forced to rethink their existing waste management and recycling strategies. Further, a recent study by McKinsey & Company shows that 76 percent of executives believe that engaging in sustainability contributes positively to long-term shareholder value. That puts it near the top of the list for many corporate leaders.

Even behemoth Walmart has gotten the message. In 2009 it established a sustainability index, asking each of its 100,000 suppliers worldwide to complete a brief green-practices survey. The first four questions pertain directly to waste reduction.
 
Tasty Baking Company’s plant in rural Oxford, Pennsylvania earned kudos from Wal-Mart based in large part on its Beneficial Residuals Management program for wastewater. Instead of incinerating they are now transporting the wastewater to local farms for agricultural utilization where the nutrients in the wastewater are consumed by field crops.

The change reduces the facility’s carbon footprint and saves money in several ways.

  • The farms receiving the water are much closer than the incinerator, reducing vehicle use and reducing their consumption of fossil fuels.
  • The farm crops contribute positively to air quality by making oxygen from carbon dioxide.
  • Water reuse lowers dependence on rapidly shrinking water resources and provides a way to replenish the ground water aquifer.

Green Alternatives

The Beneficial Residuals Management concept mirrors the organics recycling pyramid, where preventing waste creation is at the top. The next most desirable outcome is reuse, which is where most Beneficial Residuals Management programs fit. Within the reuse category, Beneficial Residuals’ hierarchy is to recover and/or create materials that can be used for:

  • Humans to eat or use
  • Feeding animals
  • Agricultural benefit
  • Product manufacture
  • Net-positive energy generation.

The goal in all of these stages is to avoid or minimize the processing, handling and energy used to recover or create the residual materials, as these factors affect the cost/benefit ratio. This is a critical step in deciding on an appropriate solution.

For example, a Nestle frozen food plant in South Carolina struggled with de-watered sludge that had such high grease content with free liquids that it was continuously rejected by landfills. After a full analysis examining the different reuse options for the material, it was determined that composting was the best solution. Now, the composted waste is used as an ingredient by a company that manufactures bagged planting soil sold at home-improvement stores in the Southeast U.S.

Photo credit: U.S. EPA

High-strength liquid waste streams that were once a burden, with high disposal costs and, frequently, high sewer surcharges, are now looked upon as a potential fuel for energy production through anaerobic digestion.

Spent coffee grounds, a byproduct of Nestle instant coffee manufacturing, are utilized in a fireplace log made of only recycled materials and sold as a “green” consumer product. Cocoa bean shells, a byproduct of chocolate production, are utilized in the mushroom industry as a soil amendment in mushroom production.

Farms often provide the ingredients to create the food products, and can often benefit from the waste from processing that food. Through research with the University of Pennsylvania’s Veterinary School, Kraft found that the mustard seed husks leftover from production of its Grey Poupon mustard have beneficial proteins and fats. Kraft now sends those husks to companies that incorporate them into cattle feed. Similarly, White Wave, a soy milk manufacturer, also utilizes its soybean hulls (okara) for use in animal feeds.

Frozen foods are particularly susceptible to spoilage from improper storage and transport. By handling the packaging and food items separately it is possible to find effective alternatives to simple landfilling of the entire unit. Misprinted and damaged packaging can be similarly handled.

The beverage industry typically utilizes Beneficial Residuals Management to manage QA-QC samples, returns and outdated liquid products. It removes the contents from the packaging and reuses the liquid for animal feed, agricultural utilization, and/or energy production. The glass or plastic packaging can be recycled in a traditional manner.

Beneficial Residuals Management is helping food manufacturers tackle the decades-long challenge of recycling and managing waste. Through minor process modifications and a fresh outlook, companies can finally find sustainable waste management strategies that can cut the cost of being green.

Sustainable Resources Group, Inc. provides services focused on maintaining environmental compliance, reducing customer costs, eliminating and managing residual wastes, and achieving sustainability goals. Peter can be reached at 610-840-9200 or king@sustainableresourcesgroup.com.

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