Real Readers: Almost Zero Waste

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Real Readers is an Earth911.com series featuring the stories of real people making a difference in the world. Are you or someone you know going above and beyond to do something for the Earth? Tell us about it!

Warehouse manager and avid recycler Marvin Hill believes that success comes in the cans and not the cannots. This belief  has led him to transition an entire company to one that produces nearly zero waste.

Hill is the warehouse manager for Perry Foam Products, a leader in molded foam technology, specializing in the production of sanding and grinding pads.

What is a sanding or grinding pad, you ask? They are the polyurethane foam pads added to power tools for sanding wood, drywall and other construction materials, or used in different types of automotive pads for vehicle maintenance.

Waste materials are separated by type and composition, then sent to different vendors for recycling.

Waste materials are separated by type and composition, then sent to different vendors for recycling. Photo: Marvin Hill

When Hill came to Perry Foam Products three years ago, there was no recycling occurring at all. Having had some experience with recycling in his previous company of fifteen years, Hill decided to take on the project and inch his company toward a zero-waste facility with each step he made.

“In the beginning, the biggest goal was to find someone to take all the stuff. My boss said ‘if you can do it, get it done’.”

And so the work began.

Finding a Home For the Materials

The biggest challenge for Hill was finding a vendor to accept the waste polyurethane foam pads for recycling. Polyurethane can be a tricky material to recycle, though new technologies industry-wide have begun to allow for increased rates of recovery and recycling.

Hill found an Ohio-based company that would buy the polyurethane to recycle into carpet padding. Grounded up and mixed with other foams in a process known as flexible foam bonding, the waste polyurethane is recycled into carpet padding, an increasingly common yield product of polyurethane recycling.

According to the Center for the Polyurethanes Industry of the American Chemistry Council, polyurethanes account for approximately 5 percent of all plastic waste. New workable technologies for polyurethane recycling have allowed for increased recovery and new yield products, including carpet cushions, upholstery, automotive floor mats, tire covers, powders for production of new foam and even surfboards.

For his recycling efforts, Marvin Hill was presented with the SIA Excellence in Environmental Stewardship Award in May 2009. The award recognizes outstanding environmental stewardship on a community-based, grass-roots level.

For his recycling efforts, Marvin Hill was presented with the SIA Excellence in Environmental Stewardship Award in May 2009. The award recognizes outstanding environmental stewardship on a community-based, grass-roots level. Photo: Marvin Hill

Almost Zero Waste

Having found a recycling source for the polyurethane pads, Hill moved on to the more commonly recycled materials, such as paper, cardboard, plastics and metal.

He even tackled less frequently recycled products like velcro and chemicals. The company is now 90 percent waste free!

When Hill started at Perry Foam three years ago, five dumpsters worth of waste were being sent to the landfill twice weekly.

By finding recycling options for 90 percent of the waste, the company now fills one dumpster every two months. The recycling efforts represent a $70,000-per-year savings for the company.

But what about the other 10 percent? Hill is hard at work on that. He’s looking into having all food scrap sent to an industrial composting site and having other waste materials sent for recycling into fuel sources.

A Word of Advice

Single-handedly turning a company into one that produces nearly zero waste may not be a simple task, but it is a realistic one.

“My advice to someone starting up is try to be patient and don’t give up,” says Hill. “Some days I find myself telling myself that just to believe – if you set out to do something, more times than not it will happen.”

In the beginning, Hill found it difficult for employees to understand the importance and value in the program. However as time went on, people began asking more questions and becoming more involved in the recycling efforts. With increased staff involvement and Hill’s leadership, the company inches closer to absolute zero waste each day.

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