Zero Landfilling: A First Step In Industrial Ecology

Corporate goals to achieve "zero waste" or "zero accidents" are nothing new. What is new of late is the steady stream of corporate operating sites announcing that they are able to come very close, indeed, to reaching such goals.

It's not just the fruit of the latest management consulting fad, nor is it a numbers game. The zero waste goal is actually achievable, can save real money, year after year, and lightens the load for over-worked front line employees. Another driver is the Wal-Mart effect. 'If Wal-Mart can cut packaging waste X percent, so can we.'

With packaging in particular, it may be possible to generate a waste reduction ripple that goes all the way up the supply chain, so that suppliers at even the resource extraction level are pushed to become less wasteful.In the best of outcomes, cardboard shifts to returnable, re-usable crates over the entire supply chain. In the least favorable outcome, the biggest downstream customers simply make their immediate suppliers own the waste disposal problem.

As with the recent report of a US Subaru plant that has hit the 99.8% recycle/reuse rate, there can be rather severe carbon footprint limits imposed by the global economy.

Subaru's giant assembly plant here is on track to produce 180,000 cars this year. Yet the automaker pledges that virtually none of the waste generated from its eye-popping output will wind up in a dump.

Copper-laden slag left over from welding is collected and shipped to Spain for recycling. Styrofoam forms encasing delicate engine parts are returned to Japan for the next round of deliveries. Even small protective plastic caps are collected in bins to be melted down to make something else.

The fact that 5% of the cited reduction comes from waste to energy conversion (a.k.a. incineration) also has its value limitations when carbon emissions become a top ranked metric.

The point is - and we're directing this at USA Today more than Subaru America - if you're going to call a company green, you have to tell us what the criteria are, what's on the scorecard. Solid waste and emission reductions are very different, yet very interdependent goals, which means a balanced scorecard is of the essence.
Via::USA Today, "It's waste not, want not at super green Subaru plant" Image credit::ibid

Tags: Recycling

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