From Waste to Value

Waste Management Practices and Innovations

As a collective whole, we consumers have a tendency to overuse, rapidly devalue, and immediately discard items to waste as soon as said product no longer satisfies our needs. Inevitably, the correlation between extreme production rates and large amounts of waste is extremely detrimental to our environment.
According to the Global Footprint Network, in 2018, the output of 1.7 times what Earth is capable of producing in a sustainable way was used to support the human population. At current rates of growth and waste, the data suggests we will soon need two Earths to fully support our civilization. Something has to change.

In order for our future generations to flourish, it is essential that we conscientiously look for ways to improve our means of production while limiting the amount of by-product deemed waste.

One particular way manufacturing industries can minimize their environmental impact is through a process known as Industrial Waste Management. According to Waste Management, Inc., a leading provider of integrated environmental solutions in North America, industrial waste management “is a carefully constructed and environmentally conscious plan to dispose of solid, special, or hazardous wastes generated by various industries.” Implementing such a plan, companies and industries alike can minimize their waste, and often reduce their costs as well.

With growing concern toward the depletion of resources available for future sustainability, it is more important now than ever for businesses to adopt and implement innovations and practices that directly relate to waste management. With a global population over seven billion, demand is at an all-time high while supply continues to unavoidably decrease. Although some industries may consider this to be a challenge, it also creates an opportunity to stand out, to lead by example and become firsts in their respective industries, paving the way for future generations to flourish. Manufacturing in Focus is pleased highlight a few industries, individuals and companies that are seizing this opportunity to succeed in the face of adversity.

Global Recycling Day, an initiative created by the Global Recycling Foundation, has been striving to create “increasing awareness of the urgent steps the world needs to take if we are to recycle more effectively and to the benefit of the planet.” The Global Recycling Foundation also promotes industries and businesses taking the necessary steps needed to help promote their vision.

One such example is highlighted in a recent online publication by Global Recycling Day, Innovation in Practice: How ‘Green Manufacturing’ is Reforming Recycling. Professor Veena Sahajwalla, Director of the University of New South Wales’ Centre for Sustainable Materials Research and Technology (SmaRT), has been researching and developing strategies to tap into the enormous waste mountains. Professor Sahajwalla sees enormous potential in extracting valuable elements from these massive waste piles and using them as alternative resources.

Since the conception of the SMaRT centre, ‘green manufacturing’ has transformed many industries, most notably the steelmaking industry. Because of its environmentally-conscious research, the steelmaking process known as Electronic Arc Furnace (EAF) was developed and is now internationally recognized. EAF is an environmentally friendly approach to steelmaking that utilizes millions of tires destined for landfills, transforming them into a partial replacement for coke. Considering the amount of steel that is used globally, this organization should be applauded for its efforts in limiting the negative impact it has on our environment.

The impact and optimism that Professor Sahajwalla and her SMaRT team have generated also encourage further breakthroughs, spurring researchers and industries alike to be proactive in finding environmentally sensitive solutions. Their contributions have paved the way for the thermal transformation of waste glass and plastics into silicon carbide and mining copper-based alloys from printed circuit boards.

Professor Sahajwalla’s vision is “for a new industrial landscape, one in which cost-effective microfactories – or even mobile units – process recyclables close to their source, providing jobs in local communities, dramatically reducing the carbon footprint of transportation, and producing green materials and products.”

One company that stands out as a shining example in this area, maximizing its efforts to turn waste to value, is the well-known computer company, Dell. Always a forerunner in terms of using sustainable materials in products and packaging, Dell has recycled 50 million pounds of its own material into new products since 2012. The company is constantly looking for ways to reduce its environmental impact and, “As part of its ‘Legacy of Good’ program, the company has pledged to recycle 100 million lbs. of material into its product portfolio by 2020,” according to a Global Recycling Day article, How Dell is Harnessing the Gold Rush.

Actress and activist Nikki Reed has partnered with Dell in an effort to showcase the company’s commitment to the environment within the fashion industry. Reed, co-founder of Circular Collection by Bayou with Love, understands that there can be an undesirable stigma attached to recycled products and is working steadfast at changing that perception. She states, “Bayou with Love was created to bring greater awareness to the human impact on our planet and show that beautiful items can come from sustainably sourced and recycled materials,” reads the article.

Circular Collection by Bayou with Love, a jewelry line that uses Dell’s recycling program to extract the gold once used in computer motherboards, was launched in 2015. According to the Global Recycling Day article, only 12.5 percent of e-waste is currently recycled into other products, and an estimated $60 million worth of gold and silver are discarded each year in the form of mobile phones. Reed and Dell have taken advantage of this opportunity and are striving to create an environment that produces zero waste.

The process of extracting gold from the Earth is a messy one, fraught with environmental and safety concerns, and Circular Collection is doing all it can to limit its environmental impact. Dell and Wistron GreenTech undertook the Trucost Study – Environmental Net Benefit of Gold Recycling and concluded that their gold reclamation process has a 99 percent lower environmental impact than traditionally mined gold. In How Dell is Harnessing the Gold Rush, Dell’s Vice Chairman Jeff Clarke cites the potential and importance of material innovation and enthusiastically states, “When you think about the fact that there are up to 800 times more gold in a tonne of motherboards than a tonne of ore from the earth, you start to realize the enormous opportunity we have to put valuable materials to work.”

Global Recycling Day began as an initiative to destigmatize the unpleasant impression behind waste and recyclables. It envisioned a world where there are seven natural resources: water, air, coal, natural gas, minerals and recyclables. Recycling: The Seventh Resource Manifesto, an initiative of the Bureau of International Recycling, extends seven concrete challenges to world leaders to make better use of this Seventh Resource:
• Implement and strengthen international agreements that promote recycling, and negotiate new ones as needed.
• Support and promote the sustainable trade of recyclable materials to ecologically sound companies across the globe.
• Educate, from the grass roots up, the public on the critical necessity of recycling.
• Agree to a common language of recycling (same definitions, same messages).
• Make recycling a community issue, supporting initiatives which help households and businesses provide Seventh Resource materials for repurposing.
• Work with the industry to encourage ‘design for recycling’ in the reuse of materials – reducing waste and integrating ‘end-of-life’ functionality at the design stage.
• Support innovation, research and initiatives that foster better recycling practices.

Waste Management, Professor Veena Sahajwalla and the Centre for Sustainable Materials Research and Technology, the steelmaking industry, Dell, Circular Collection and Nikki Reed are just a few examples of industries, companies and individuals alike that are using waste and recycling as a means to prosper while being environmentally conscious. These leaders among us are prime examples of transforming waste to value.

Women in the Manufacturing Workforce

Over the last few decades, the American manufacturing industry has seen tremendous growth. As the economy improves and the drive to re-shore overseas facilities continues to bring manufacturing jobs back to U.S. soil, the one chief limiting factor on growth is a dwindling talent pool.

Past Issues

December 10, 2019, 7:35 PM EST