Across all industries it is no longer acceptable to utilize landfills as a quick and easy solution when it is necessary to dispose of product returns, packaging and mass recalls. It is the responsibility of the product manufacturer (generator) to know and understand how their internal staff or a third party may be dealing with their product return.
In Pennsylvania a third party company handling a nationwide product recall disassembled a product without removing an electronic timer that contained a battery and sent more than 100,000 units to a landfill; this was discovered after the units were buried. The costs associated with the recovery of the units; proper e-waste disposal, fines and legal representation was enough to put the third party company out of business while casting an environmental stain on the reputation of the manufacturer who otherwise had an impeccable environmental record.
Unfortunately, stories like this occur too often where manufacturers and third parties fail to properly disassemble and examine components or recycle all materials that are suitable for regeneration.
For more than twenty-five years there has been engineering programs for receiving product returns and the decommissioning, disassembling and recycling of products across all industries from cosmetics, fragrance and textiles to electronics, automotive and equipment using environmentally sound practices with complete transparency and documentation.
When looking to start a recycling program it would be important to conduct an in-depth waste / recycling audit to establish a current baseline that you will reference as your program progresses. This will not only involve the physical materials that you are putting into the waste or recycling stream but also the expenses and rebates that are tied to those materials over a designated period of time, normally one to three years.
Once materials have been identified and there is an understanding of the quantities for these materials we would then determine the best green practices in order to capture that material while improving your current labor efficiencies. Certain materials can be collected together such as different types of plastics while others might require separation.
It is normally most efficient to handle the material the least number of times so with that in mind programs are designed to capture and separate materials quickly upon being received without the item being handled by multiple individuals.
Collection methods may require some equipment or conveyors in order to collect, compact or bale the materials depending on the types of material. This equipment will increase overall efficiency and prepare the materials for transportation to a processing facility.
Depending on the specific product type, there should be a designed program in place with the goal of zero material to landfill. It is important to evaluate the reverse logistics programs in place as it pertains to the proper recycling and re-use of materials, designing a program that will include all packaging materials (plastics, cardboard, EPS) for recycle and in the event of a product destruction, a program for all components of the unit to be destroyed include liquids, creams, lotions, glass, plastics metals and electronics. When these materials are properly identified and collected there could be a value to the material that then can be used to off-set the cost of the destruction or product reconditioning.
For example, a product return center for an electronics manufacturer may receive several hundred packages a day. These units are de-boxed and documented to determine if they will be repaired and re-sold or destroyed often times the packing materials are not the original materials and are just placed into trash compactors to be landfilled locally at an expense to the manufacturer. All packaging materials can be recycled and often producing a positive rebate return for the material not to mention the positive image for the manufacturer by moving in the direction of being sustainable.
When a product recall or certified destruction of a retail item is required this should be undertaken with the same mindset. Planning on how the item will be received, de-packaged, documented, rendered destroyed and recycled is critical to maintaining your sustainability program.
Responsibility does not end at the loading dock. The generator should know where and how the materials are being recycled to ensure that the end facility is properly licensed by the appropriate government authority to accept and process the materials and is using state inspected and certified scales so that you can receive correct weights to properly document your program.
Once a program has been established it becomes simple to track your recycled materials by weight along with the savings generated through avoiding the landfill costs and receiving the recycling material rebates. It has been my experience that when a manufacturer initiates a recycling program related to their reverse logistics operation, the financial benefit through reduced costs and the recycling rebates will far exceed the one-time expense of any costs related to the necessary equipment for the program. There is clearly an environmental and financial benefit to develop the vision of avoiding the use of landfills.
John Frustaci has been working in recycling programs and various Waste Management Equipment Systems for over 10 years. He has successfully obtained a Bachelorís degree in Engineering as well as a Masterís in Science from the Stevenís Institute of Technology. He has various memberships with programs making a difference such as Green America: Economic Action for the Planet and the U.S. Green Building Council. Mr. Frustaci is currently employed as an Applications Engineer with Premier Facility Management. One of his goals are to keep as much material out of the landfill as possible. He wants to better knowledge his clients on more efficient means to handle their excess inventory and product destruction, as well as keeping them more sustainable and cost efficient.