RECYCLING: Washington Companies Reduce Waste, See Green

King County, Wash., manufacturers are discovering profits. With the help of a county Packaging Waste Prevention Assistance program, businesses are reducing packaging costs and decreasing the amount of waste going to the landfill.

Although packaging is necessary - it preserves and protects, helps in the transport of products, and informs and entices customers - it contributes significantly to the municipal solid waste stream. Nearly one-third of all municipal garbage is containers and packaging, according to the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency's "Characterization of Municipal Solid Waste in the U.S.: 1996 Update."

About two years ago, to help reduce the waste stream, King County Green Works waste specialists decided to provide free assistance to companies that wanted to reduce their packaging waste. Their advice?

Eliminate it. First, get rid of unnecessary packaging, including the useless layers that surround products from the time they are manufactured until they are consumed. Many products including oranges, sweaters, hammers, etc., can be marketed successfully without a package.

Reduce it. The number and amount of materials can be reduced by decreasing packaging weight, size or volume, or by making a product available in bulk or concentrated form.

Reuse it. Create refillable and reusable containers that can be used by the same or another product. For example, durable containers made of plastic, wood, steel or paper can be reused to transport products to customers, especially local or repeat customers. Such containers also can be used for internal storage and handling. Also, businesses that receive boxed products can reuse the boxes and loose packaging material for shipping.

Recycle it. Recycling discarded packaging materials can help cut disposal costs. The key is to choose packaging materials that are widely recycled in most communities through well-developed collection systems. Businesses also should use post-consumer or recycled materials when possible.

Redesign it. Small design changes can lead to large savings. For example, instead of boxes, use strapping; instead of pallets, use slip sheets. Packages with square corners instead of round also increase transportation and storage efficiency.

One company that has benefited significantly from King County's program is Stockpot Soups, Redmond, Wash. Waste reduction specialists have helped Stockpot pare down its packaging by using durable, returnable plastic pallets instead of heavier wooden pallets. Through the program, Stockpot also has found a local company to grind and recycle its worn wooden pallets. And drums of outdated corn syrup have become a "treat" for local dairy cows instead of being dumped.

However, the most profitable waste reduction step the company took was redesigning its concentrated, refrigerated soup packaging. A custom, re-sealable pouch has eliminated a packaging layer from the company's previous pouch-in-a-box design and uses half the packaging material of metal cans or glass jars. But the bonus is increased consumer appeal. Since the pouch's introduction, retail soup sales have increased 40 percent.

As Stockpot grows, the opportunities to streamline production and cut waste will increase. The company can buy more ingredients in bulk containers that can be resold, refilled or recycled.

Through the King County program, other waste-savvy companies are finding alternatives to shipping pallets, which can be a drain on budgets. For example, Amway's Kent, Wash., Service Center saves $109,000 annually by shipping on corrugated slip-sheets instead of pallets. These thin, sturdy racks use less cargo space and reduce fuel consumption, pallet purchase and storage, and recycling and disposal costs.

The company has had further waste reduction success with its new computer-aided packing system that is designed to choose the most cost-effective carton per order, cutting yearly shipping costs by $30,000.

Furthermore, county waste specialists have helped the company save $3,250 annually by suggesting the use of reusable, recyclable starch-based packing peanuts. A reusable, air-inflated shipping balloon that stabilizes truck loads also is expected to save Amway $5,778.

For more information on King County's Packaging Waste Prevention Assistance program, call Green Works at (206) 296-8800 or E-mail: [email protected]