"What if waste...isn't waste?"
That question inspired the company behind the consumer brands including Gillette, Tide and Pampers to embark on an extensive zero manufacturing waste goal.
Waste is usually disposed of in four ways: recycling, compost, incineration or landfill. Forbes McDougall, global wastestreams leader at Procter & Gamble (P&G), told PlasticsToday that the first three give value to the waste, and the last results in loss for both the company and environment.
"At P&G, our goal is to find value in all of our waste, so we focus on recycling, reuse and converting waste to energy," McDougall said. "The types of waste we are challenged with are just as diverse as our product portfolio, so some of it can't be recycled through traditional methods. But we're committed to finding worth in waste, so we've gotten creative and formed innovative partnerships that turn waste into things like bricks, soil treatment and soles for low-cost shoes - we call this 'beneficial reuse.'"
The company recently announced that 45 of their facilities have now achieved zero manufacturing waste to landfill. Over the past five years, P&G's work to find worth in waste has created over $1 billion in value for the company.
P&G announced its first zero manufacturing waste to landfill site in Budapest in 2007. Since then, the company has shared a long-term environmental vision, pledging to work toward zero consumer and manufacturing waste worldwide.
Through quality assurance, packaging reduction, compaction and recycling efforts, the company now ensures that 99% of all materials entering P&G plants leaves as finished product or is recycled, reused or converted to energy. Now less than 1% of all materials entering P&G sites globally leave as waste.
"Since 2002, we've decreased the amount of manufacturing waste sent to landfill by 74% per unit of production," McDougall said. "We have multiple approaches to reducing waste in manufacturing, which include designing more material-efficient delivery systems and identifying ways to repurpose waste as raw materials for use by P&G and others."
The zero waste process
McDougall said that fundamental purchasing practices such as supplier consolidation, leveraging scale and pricing negotiations based on volume and index linked material pricing, were applied and delivered immediate benefits that could be seen at a site level. Purchasing managers also focus on the financial viability of their projects to deliver savings or revenue generating solutions that enable site management to quickly approve new processes or equipment, which also deliver environmental improvements.
The company's Global Asset Recovery Purchases (GARP) works to turn garbage into "goods." The GARP team is charged with finding external partners who can turn waste and non-performing inventory into something useful. So when a P&G site has something they haven't been able to recycle, GARP steps in to help.
Technical credibility, McDougall said, helped build trust between GARP, P&G's waste management partners and the company's corporate and site level Health, Safety, and Environment teams. Access to detailed corporate environmental data enabled the team to identify the sites disposing of the largest tonnages of solid waste in each region and this allowed the team to develop a clear priority list of what waste had to be addressed at which sites.
In addition, the data is a powerful tool for communication and motivation, "as no plant manager wants their site to be known as the biggest waste producer in the company," McDougall said.
Sharing this type of detailed information generates significant support for problem solving at a site level and helps strong partnerships form when cross functional teams are created to identify and implement economically and environmentally better solutions.
"GARP leverages technical expertise and innovative solutions proposed by our waste management partners and this has been the spring board for a mindset change, which has been talked about a lot, but is sometimes difficult to put into practice," McDougall said. "We now really do see all of the material we used to call 'waste' as a resource. We paid for it in the first place and we really don't want to pay for its treatment or disposal."
Material that was once sent for disposal is now sold as a raw material to an alternative use partner wherever possible. For instance, excess floss is repurposed in Mexico as the filling in pillows that are used to clean up industrial spills. At a U.S. Pampers site, scrap from the wipe manufacturing process is converted to upholstery filling. And in the UK, waste created in the production of Gillette shaving foam is composted then used to grow turf for commercial uses.
"We're innovating to limit the amount of waste that even has the opportunity to enter a landfill by reducing our packaging," McDougall said. "In fact, each of our product categories is committed to a 20% packaging reduction by 2020."
External partnerships are a key part of the company's packaging efforts to reduce material usage and increase recycled content in its products.
For example, P&G partnership with the Association of Postconsumer Plastic Recyclers (APR) has helped P&G test new package designs prior to market entry to ensure they are compatible with existing recycling infrastructure.
P&G helped support an APR pilot project focused on recovering grocery store plastic packaging, which identified more than 350 million lb of plastic material that can be used by plastic recycling facilities across the country.
Long-term sustainability vision
McDougall said the company is on a journey toward achieving a long-term environmentally sustainability vision. This includes: plants that are powered with 100% renewable energy; zero consumer and manufacturing waste goes to landfill; and the company's products are made from 100% renewable or recycled materials.
To ensure they are making progress toward this vision, P&G have set measurable goals in products and operations for 2020, which include replacing 25% of petroleum-based materials with sustainably sourced renewable materials, reducing packaging, increasing use of renewable energy in its plants to 30%, reducing manufacturing waste to less than 0.5%, and several others.
"Our zero waste announcement is a significant milestone towards our vision and we are confident that we will achieve all our goals," he said.
McDougall believes that P&G can serve as a model for the industry on zero waste to landfill, to a certain extent. He emphasized that different industries produce different waste materials, which can require different recycling technologies.
"Solutions must also be both economically and environmentally sustainable - so the big picture has to be considered," he said. "We would still prioritize finding a reuse or recycling solution for our largest volume waste streams versus spending a huge amount of time and effort to divert a single ton from landfill just to enable a site to claim zero waste to landfill status. We focus on delivering the biggest environmental benefit first, and then focus on bringing each site to zero waste to landfill status."