When we talk “traditional” recycling, the conversation typically centers on post-consumer materials like cardboard packaging, plastic bottles and aluminum cans. While these materials obviously do make up a huge portion of the waste stream that ends up landfilled in the United States, some of the most important parts of the problem go unnoticed by the consumer. From manufacturers to technology firms, there are entire streams of industrial and commercial waste generated that get little recognition due to the fact that they are more or less hidden from the public eye. Why use corporate resources to increase recycling efforts for these materials if they generally go unnoticed?
Some firms are showing that not only is it easy to recycle this waste, but that it also comes numerous upsides. Take a firm like Kimberly-Clark Professional (KCP) who specializes in laboratory and cleanroom safety equipment. They found a simple and efficient ways of solving their own waste generation through their recycling program, RightCycle. Since the initiative’s inception in 2011, KCP has collected and recycled over 125,000 pounds of disposable one-use garments, and 29,000 pounds of gloves. It is a simple process: participating clients collect their disposable garments and gloves in RightCycle boxes, arrange the boxes onto pallets, and then have them picked up by TerraCycle where the materials will be sorted and sent for recycling.
Kimberly-Clark Professional has already made a commitment to diverting all of their manufacturing waste from landfills by 2015. Efforts to reach this 2015 sustainability goal have even shone through in sales, as 22 percent of KCP sales in 2012 came from environmentally innovative products, up from 13 percent in 2011. These recycling efforts are measureable, truthful, and convey to their customers that the company’s commitments to sustainable waste solutions are real. This speaks volumes in a time where many customers are even willing to pay more for products from socially conscious companies. With more of a focus on managing sustainable solutions to their waste, KCP and companies with similar practices exude both corporate and social responsibility, increasing customer loyalty in the process.
Firms that generate industrial and manufacturing waste are even benefitting. Michigan-based company Gage Products developed a method for recycling their paint solvents, used by automobile manufacturers, allowing them and their partners to save both money and resources, all while recovering nearly 75 percent of their input material. This brings clients interested in sustainability and saving costs directly to Gage’s doorstep. Similar to KCP, Gage has found a way to not only reduce their environmental impact by repurposing their own manufacturing waste, but they’ve even developed a system for reintegrating those recycling materials back into the manufacturing process.
Not only will being socially responsible in this way send a positive message to consumers, but to employees as well. As seen in a 2013 article by Forbes, many corporate executives agree that corporate social responsibility and community engagement practices result in happier, more talented employees.
The often overlooked problem of manufacturing and pre-consumer waste has been left as a side-note of discussion for too long. Just because a company is less consumer-facing doesn’t mean that it generates any less waste, or that recycling and sustainability ventures should be taken any less seriously. On the contrary, there are even tangible benefits to doing so. As you decrease your environmental impact and increase your focus on being truly socially responsible, the relationship you have with your consumers and clients can only strengthen in the process.
Author Tom Szaky, founder/CEO of TerraCycle, has won more than 50 awards for entrepreneurship, also writes blogs for Treehugger and The New York Times, recently published a book called "Revolution in a Bottle" and is the star of a National Geographic Channel special, "Garbage Moguls."