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How Rockline Industries Works on Water

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From the beginning, Rockline Industries’ commitment to sustainability has been driven by two motives: it’s important to stakeholders, and it’s the right thing to do. (Photo Source: Rockline Industries)

Rockline Industries is one of world's largest manufacturers of wet wipes and coffee filters. It has U.S. plants in Sheboygan, Wisconsin; Montville, New Jersey; Booneville, Arkansas and Springdale, Arkansas.

In terms of its sustainability initiative, Rockline endeavors to minimize waste and its impact on the environment through five strategies:

  1. Design waste out of the system.
  2. Increase manufacturing efficiencies.
  3. Divert solid waste from landfills.
  4. Investigate alternative waste strategies like reuse, recycling and energy recapture.
  5. Eliminate sources of wastewater from its operations.

“Our plants are located in areas that have an abundance of fresh water,” reports Josh Eldridge, global environmental sustainability coordinator. “However, we are still committed to water conservation, since water in general is a scarce resource on the planet.”

Rockline Coffee Filters

Unlike its wet wipe products, Rockline coffee filters do not incorporate water as an ingredient.

Water Is Both a Supply and an Ingredient

 

It is unusual for water to be part of a finished product, but water is a key ingredient in the company's wet wipes product line. “One thing we want to do is drive down the intake of water that doesn't go into our products,” states Eldridge. “To determine non-product water usage, we calculate wastewater as the water that comes into our plant, less the amount of water that goes into product. We then run this through our formulation calculator, which gives us the gallons of water that didn't go into a product.”

One of the largest usages of non-product water occurs during changeovers and cleanings on the wet wipe lines. That is, when a plant changes from one formulation to another (such as lavender wet wipes to fragrance-free wet wipes), it needs to flush all of the lavender formula from the line before it begins manufacturing the fragrance-free wipe. Batching stations, pipeworks, filling stations and production lines have to be flushed.

As a starting point, Rockline's U.S. division began compiling a matrix of water usage based on formulation types. That is, it determined how much water is used when changing from one fragrance to another. Examples: When the plant shifts from Formulation Type A to B, water usage is this much. When it shifts from A to C, water usage is this much. When it shifts from B to C, C to A, etc., water usage is this much. “We are now trying to focus on the changeover sequences involving products that are more alike, in order to reduce water usage during changeovers,” Eldridge says. In addition, the company's “green lead” person in the U.K. has some interesting ideas on how water is used during changeovers in the various tanks and lines.

Rockline also uses water in the filter side of its business. Steam is required to give the basket filters their fluted shape. “We are looking at how to use steam more efficiently on the coffee filter lines, which run 24 hours a day,” reports Eldridge. “We have been able to introduce a couple of improvement initiatives here as a result.”

The company, of course, also uses some water in offices, primarily for employee usage (drinking, washrooms, etc.). “We have been able to estimate employee usage,” he reports. “We have a factor and multiply that by the number of employees we have every month. This helps us identify locations where usage may be higher than normal.” While the company doesn't want to incur excessive water usage among employees, it does emphasize to all of its employees that it doesn't want them to compromise their needs for water or take steps to inappropriately use less water. That is, it makes it clear to employees that they should remain safe and healthy. “For example, we want them to drink water to remain hydrated, and we don't want them to not flush toilets,” states Eldridge.

Employees Bring Experienced Eyes

Rockline encourages employees to make suggestions on sustainability in general. In the water category, most of the questions and ideas that Eldridge and managers receive are what he calls “high innovation,” such as, “Can we funnel water from this system to that system?” He passes these suggestions on to the company's “green leads” at the monthly forum. “These people have the engineering expertise to consider them,” he explains.

However, on occasion he also receives more basic comments such as, “There is a hose in the parking lot that never shuts off.” He says, “These are things we can tackle quickly.”

Many employee ideas come during participation in the company's Sustainability 101 training program, which is in conjunction with a Wisconsin technical college and designed to educate employees on a variety of sustainability topics. During the classes, employees are asked to look at their functional areas and report what they see that Eldridge and/or other company leaders have not seen. One operator asked a manager why the water under one of the filling stations was constantly flushing. The comment was passed on to an engineer, who put the system on a meter to measure usage. “We realized that the system didn't need to run continuously, so it was redesigned to eliminate continuous running,” reports Eldridge. “This ended up saving our total water intake globally by over 20%.”

Mixed and Rising Success

Currently, water usage is up 5% against the company's baseline. However, this is due to a large one-time business expansion. “During this expansion, we had to use a lot of water to validate the manufacturing processes for wet wipes,” explains Eldridge. “None of this product ended up in our finished goods inventory.” As a result, he believes that water usage will fall into line in the near future again, helping the company continue to reduce usage.

Overall, the water conservation program has been a success. In fact, it has been successful in ways that were not initially expected. “We had a water leak at our U.K. facility a few years ago,” reports Eldridge. “The reason we were able to identify it was because of our sustainability program.” That is, because of the metrics the company had established for usage, it noticed that the usage for the U.K. facility just didn't make sense. “The normalized unit for water was too high,” he states. “When they investigated the intake, they found a leak.” Had the metrics not been in place, it is possible that the leak might not have been discovered.

As for the future, “We want to achieve a better understanding of where water is used outside of our products,” Eldridge says. “We meter water intake, but not outflow, and our current system gets us within 90% to 95% accuracy of wastewater. However, if we can identify the exact quantity and where it is going, we can focus on even more improvement.”

Rockline Industries’ recently released 2012 Sustainability Report.

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