DuPont Group Sheds 81 Million Pounds to Achieve Zero Waste to Landfill
Over the course of three years, DuPont Building Innovations in Wilmington, Delaware reduced the annual amount of waste it sent to landfills from 81 million pounds in 2008 to zero by the end of 2011.
The company's products are used in the construction industry, including new construction and remodel, and commercial and residential. “In our value chain, we have customers who are architects, designers and builders who are very interested in achieving LEED certification,” explains David L. Walter, Americas Business manager for inventory. “They ask how our products can contribute to this.” Increasingly, according to Walter, customers want to know even more and want to move even further up to understand what the company's environmental footprint is as a manufacturer. “When we looked around at what we were doing, we felt we were an environmental leader in terms of recycling and other initiatives,” he reports. “However, when we looked at our landfill position, we realized it was something we didn't want to continue. We created a goal to be 'zero landfill' from all of our manufacturing sites that were involved in the creation of Building Innovations products.”
The goal would be challenging. DuPont Building Innovations has 15 locations around world and has four distinct product families with varying manufacturing processes and waste streams: Corian solid surfaces, Zodiaq quartz surfaces, Tyvek weatherization systems, and geosynthetic textiles.
Undaunted, the company created the “Drive to Zero” project, and Walter led a Six Sigma team tasked with getting the company to zero landfill status. According to Walter, the first key was to make sure that everyone in the company understood why the current state was no longer acceptable. “Leaders spend a lot of time casting a vision and talking about future states,” he explains. “What I learned from other projects I had managed in the past was the importance of spending time up front explaining to everyone why the current state was not acceptable.” When you get people to this point, he found, they become much more receptive to working toward the future state. “So, we spent a lot of time on the floor explaining why we needed to make this change,” he adds.
The team began to spend a lot of time with kaizen events, working with operators on individual waste streams that they were trying to manage. “We got a lot of great ideas from the floor,” continues Walter. “In addition, as we started to publish the metrics of the results, and people started seeing it go down from 81 million to 71 million, then down to 61 million, this created even more momentum, and we got even better suggestions of additional things we could do.”
The initial process step was to do a lot of mapping to understand all of the components, by weight, going into the landfills. In other words, how much did the pallets, metal buckets, cardboard, strapping, plastic wrap, etc. each weigh? The team actually found more than 30 different waste streams.
After identifying what and how much of each item the plants were landfilling, the team looked to see if there were ways to stop creating the waste in the first place - to change the process. “This was the best solution,” he reports.
If a waste stream could not be prevented, the next step was to see if it could be recycled back into first-grade production material, so that the plants didn't have to buy new.
The next step was to see what remaining waste might be sellable. “If it was in sellable condition, we looked for ways to sell it outside so it could be repurposed,” states Walter. This step was particularly rewarding to everyone - finding that things that the plants had once thrown away actually had value to other people for their processes and purposes. “We weren't sure about this at the beginning,” he admits. “However, over time, it was exciting to identify buyers and work out agreements with them.”
The last step was to look for ways that the remaining waste could be disposed of in some other ways than landfill.
Along the way, maintaining employee commitment was critical. That is, besides getting good ideas from employees, the team wanted to make sure they “walked the talk” each and every day. For example, if someone put something into an incorrect recycling container, it would contaminate that container. “Then, we wouldn't be able to sell it, and we would lose a customer that was buying from us,” he states. If and when an employee placed an item in the wrong container, the team, rather than punish the employee, would ask why. “We realized that it wasn't because people didn't care,” he explains. “Maybe we didn't have containers in right places or procedures weren't clear. As a result, we continued to improve the processes, and people respected that we were trying to make things better, not penalize them.”
Some examples of successful initiatives:
- Tyvek wrap and flashing manufacturing trim is recycled into first-grade material.
- Shipping pallets are repaired, reused or ground into animal bedding.
- Carrier belt film is melted and used to make adhesives.
- Cafeteria waste is used to create worm bedding.
- Sanding waste from the manufacture of Corian and Zodiaq is used as a filler replacement in concrete.
- When a plant makes a Corian sheet, it makes it a bit wider than its finished size, so that it can ultimately ensure square edges. The result is some trim that comes from the outside of each sheet - about half-inch wide and four inches long. “This used to go to landfill, and there was a lot of it,” admits Walter. “However, we found that we could crush the trim and turn it into landscaping stone and drainage rock. Customers really like it, because it is less dense than gravel and a little bit lighter, meaning that it doesn't collapse drainage pipe. It also looks very nice, especially when it is wet, because there are so many different colors.”
Even corporate employees got involved. The company had thousands of two-inch-square samples in the corporate office. Employees turned them into refrigerator magnets and sold them at lunchtime to other employees to raise money for charity.
The most important result of the Drive to Zero project, of course, is that no more waste goes to landfills. Other benefits are the reduction of landfill expenses for the company, as well as the profits from selling some of the material that once was waste.
The project has also provided good marketing for the company. “We are able to say we are zero landfill, and we get a lot of good feedback from customers,” states Walter. In fact, the company earned the first-ever Supplier Sustainability Award given out by the U.S. Restaurant Development department of McDonald's, which is a large customer of our Corian. “There is also a great sense of pride among our employees at having accomplished this,” he concludes.
For more information on the Zero Landfill project.