Pilot project lays groundwork for companywide rollout
How much of the trash that Waste Management collects is really trash? That question is at the heart of the company’s transformational goal to extract more value from the materials it manages — and it has led to a project called “transfer station mining” that is aimed at targeting and retrieving valuable materials from the waste stream before it hits the landfill.
WM’s new Innovation and Business Optimization group, part of the company’s overall transformation project, initiated a series of pilot programs at transfer stations in Chicago and Denver to determine how much valuable material could be “mined” from the volume of trash collected and brought there. A team from across WM developed a set of specific tools and processes, gathered into a “playbook” for implementing an efficient mining process at WM’s other sites. WM is now using this playbook for a six-week training, coaching and implementation schedule at transfer stations nationwide, to be rolled out over the next six to 12 months.
“One important part of the overall effort was to understand how much recycled material we actually have in the ‘mineable’ waste stream at our transfer stations,” said Greg Yorston, vice president of WM’s Business Solutions Group. “‘This does not include all of the waste that we handle, and generally excludes residential waste. WM Sustainability Services was engaged to help the team understand how much recyclables were in the mineable waste we have at our transfer stations.”
“Our primary focus is on clean, saleable corrugated cardboard, and determining its potential market value,” said Sustainability Consultant Sean Daley, a member of WM Sustainability Services, which led the studies. “We were also interested in shining a light on other commodity materials at the transfer stations, such as metals, wood, mixed paper and plastic film.”
During March and April, six teams from the Sustainability Services group conducted 10 week-long studies at transfer stations in Chicago, Illinois; Memphis, Tenn.; Brooklyn, N.Y.; Cleveland, Ohio; Orlando, Fla.; Reno, Nev.; Denver, Colo.; Carson, Calif.; Annapolis, Md.; and Ft. Worth, Texas.
Sustainability Services determined that, overall, approximately 10 percent (by weight) of the material entering the transfer stations studied consisted of clean corrugated cardboard, with significant amounts of wood, metals, mixed paper and plastic film present as well.
“We‘ll be able to divert and recycle a significant amount of this material”, Yorston said. “Add to that a reduction in our carbon footprint and a reduction in third-party hauling costs for moving the material from transfer station to landfill, and we’ve really hit all the bases. The mining initiative has the potential to create revenues, innovate operational solutions and efficiencies, and continue to progress WM’s goals of environmental sustainability and stewardship.”
By capturing this commodity material and creating positive revenue from it, transfer station mining supports WM’s stated transformation goals of innovating and optimizing the company’s operations while extracting greater value from the materials it collects. Oh yeah, and it’s better for the environment, too. The Business Solutions Group has begun the implementation phase of the mining initiative at select transfer stations nationwide.