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Expert: Reducing waste can help bottom line

Condensing waste can significantly reduce businesses' bottom lines, experts said Wednesday during the Zero In on Zero Waste Conference.

Toyota Motor Corp. (NYSE: TM) and Hewlett Packard (NYSE: HPQ) have reduced their costs by instituting recycling programs and reusing materials they previously discarded after a single use.

Reducing "mude" (the Japanese word for waste) is a major goal of Toyota Motor Corp., said Ryan McMullan, of Toyota Motor Sales' Corporate Responsibility division. The company’s 10 U.S. manufacturing plants are nearing "zero waste" status, meaning nearly all materials are reused or recycled rather than sent to the landfill.

Companies interested in undertaking similar efforts should begin by selecting three of their biggest waste categories that have the best rate of return, McMullan said. Once their recycling programs become profitable, companies should then begin recycling other categories that might cost more.

For example, Toyota began recycling cardboard, wood pallets and metal. Combined, the three materials constitute 80 percent of the company’s waste. Once those categories became profitable, the company used the money to help offset the cost associated with recycling other materials, such as windshield glass, which is more expensive and is only handled by one company in the United States, McMullan said.

In order to get employees on board for such campaigns, companies should also institute more visible recycling programs for bottles and cans in the employee break room. Bins should be color-coded and include visuals of each category of materials, as well as information about why recycling is important, McMullan said.

It is also important to quantify the benefit to the environment in simple terms. Toyota uses a calculator created by the Northeast Recycling Council and U.S. Environmental Protection Agency to quantify recycling efforts by number of trees saved and equivalents of emissions offset, McMullan said.

Sue Beets of facility management company, SBM Site Services, also encouraged companies instituting a new recycling policy to educate employees with a “constant changing message.” Different benefits of recycling are attractive to different people, therefore it is best to let employees pick out which reasons are important to them, she said.

SDM was recently approached by Hewlett Packard to improve recycling programs at the company’s 122 locations, Beets said. SDM has been doing recycling for 17 years and has increased Hewlett Packard’s waste diversion rate from 10 percent to 90 percent during that time.

Effective recycling programs should cut a company’s costs by 10 percent to 25 percent, be self-managed by a custodial vendor and reduce greenhouse gas emissions, Beets said.

Zero Waste San Diego plans to use events like the Zero In on Zero Waste Conference to educate businesses and residents about why recycling is important, said Rick Anthony, a board member of Zero Waste San Diego, the nonprofit organizer of the event.

“Eighty percent of what is purchased today is used once and then thrown away,” said Margo Reid Brown, director of Cal Recycle. “There’s no doubt we’re living in a throw-away culture.”


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