with Lorelle and Brent VanFossen

Environment Cleanup: Manufacturing Plants Eliminating Garbage

There is a growing determination and effort by manufacturers, enforced and willingly, to clean up the environment. Some are actually coming up with some amazing ideas.

In a news story on Wired News, At Clean Plants, It’s Waste Not, the Subaru factory in Lafayette, Indiana, turns out cars not garbage. According to the report, “When the garbage truck rolls up to the curb in front of your house each week, it hauls away more trash than is generated by the manufacturing processes at the factory.”

It seems that the Subaru plant is just one of many manufacturing plants which are cleaning up behind themselves in a big way through recycling, reuse, and reprocessing.

The factory is the first auto assembly plant in North America to become completely waste-free: Last year, 100 percent of the waste steel, plastic and other materials coming out of the plant were reused or recycled. Paint sludge that used to be thrown away, for example, is now dried to a powder and shipped to a plastics manufacturer, ending up eventually as parking lot bumpers and guardrails. What can’t be reused — about 3 percent of the plant’s trash — is shipped off to Indianapolis and incinerated to generate electricity.

Subaru is not alone. Lots of other companies are shipping far less garbage to landfills than they did even a few years ago. Cascade Engineering, a Grand Rapids, Michigan, plastics manufacturer that makes parts for cars and various plastic containers — including trash cans — has cut the amount of trash it sends to landfills from 2,475 tons in 2003 to just over 700 tons this year. “We’ve gone from every-other-day pickups to once every couple of weeks,” says Kelley Losey, an environmental services manager at the company.

In 2001, HP managed to keep just over three-quarters of its trash out of landfills around the world. Now that figure is 84 percent. Xerox is reusing or recycling 90 percent of its waste. Three of Toyota’s manufacturing plants in the United States have reached the 95 percent level, as has Fetzer Vineyards, one of the country’s largest winemakers.

Good on them. Now, what are you doing to clean up behind yourself and reduce your output of garbage? If they can, you can.

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