Recycling efforts really stepped up when Monroe County passed a mandatory recycling law in 1992, but as we near the end of the decade, are businesses still putting the necessary time, money and energy into saving the earth?
Yes they are, says Thomas Bourne. In 1998, 605,000 tons of waste was recycled, up from 545,000 tons in 1997.
Bourne is president of Alpco Environmental Group, formerly Alpco Recycling and Waste Systems. Alpco has entered a contractual relationship with Monroe County to redevelop the Resource Recovery Facility into an industrial commercial recycling facility.
Bourne says recycling efforts have changed since the early ’90s. When recycling first became mandatory, many businesses participated because it was the right thing to do.
Today, he says, people have come to the realization, “If I recycle, I can save money.”
Thomas Roberts, a manager for environmental engineering operations at Xerox Corp., agrees. He says Xerox recycles because it “want(s) to be a good corporate citizen, but we also realize it makes good business sense.”
Roberts adds recycling and reusing save Xerox in the tens of millions of dollars on a worldwide basis each year.
According to the Environmental Protection Agency, partners in its WasteWise program saved some $243.5 million in avoided disposal fees through waste reduction efforts in 1997. The EPA also estimates WasteWise partners saved close to $60 million in avoided paper purchasing costs in 1997.
Many recyclable materials are a valuable commodity, but the market is young and still volatile. For example, Bourne says, four years ago, corrugated cardboard brought in $220 a ton; today it is worth only $40.
Although stepping up recycling efforts can cost companies money, if done right, they will save money in the long run, Bourne says.
Costs incurred through recycling run a wide range–from the containers themselves to the cost of storing recyclables, to decreased productivity as a result of time spent on recycling efforts.
Alpco works with local companies doing waste stream audits to let them know how they can recycle more efficiently.
For example, mixing lower-grade wastepaper with top-quality white stock greatly reduces the latter’s value. The high-grade paper actually brings in money on the used-paper market, while mixed office waste is hauled away at a cost to the business.
“The last thing we want to do is send waste to a landfill,” says William Carpin, a consultant with Xerox’s environmental engineering division. He adds the document company reuses or recycles approximately 85 percent of its total waste stream.
Carpin explains large plastic panels from machines, as well as platen glass from old copier machines, is sent to be ground up and then shipped to a supplier for reuse.
In Xerox offices, waste is recycled through its source separation program, where employees are responsible for separating materials and placing them into separate bins.
In 1998, its Monroe County facilities recycled 6,691 tons of paper and corrugated materials.
Everything is then sent to a post-collection facility, where it is sorted again to ensure there is no cross-contamination, explains Carpin.
Both Xerox and Wegmans Food Markets Inc. have been at the forefront of a trend to reduce the use of wooden pallets.
At Xerox, slip sheets made of plastic or light wood are used in place of traditional wooden pallets. The sheets work better and use less material, creating more room on trucks for products.
Wegmans has begun using reusable wooden pallets, reducing the number used from 4,000 tons in 1989 to 910 tons in 1997.
According to Wegmans consumer services manager Jo Natale, the grocery chain recycles more than 65 percent of its solid waste each year.
In addition to cans, bottles and plastic shopping bags, Wegmans is very proud of its most important recycling initiative–food items.
Through what Natale calls “better waste management,” Wegmans has increased the amount of food donated to local food banks from 15 tons of perishable and 390 tons of non-perishable food in 1989 to 4,374 tons of perishable and 1,323 tons of non-perishable food in 1997.
At Wegmans Reclamation Center, damaged canned foods deemed inedible are shipped to a farm in Butler, run by GVG Co., to be reused in an innovative way.
Each can is opened and its contents dumped into a holding tank by a special machine. The cans are then rinsed and sent to a scrap metal recycler, while the food is spread onto the farm fields and used as organic fertilizer.
Alpco’s Bourne seems to think local companies are on the right track ecologically.
“Overall, companies in the Rochester area are doing very well with recycling,” he says. “We are all still working hard to figure it out.”