Kimberly-Clark Finds Ways to Turn Sludge into Raw Material

Sorting and Baling

If Kimberly-Clark mills bale certain material streams, they end up being more valuable for resale than if they are not baled. For example, baling polypropylene increases its value by about 50 percent.

Kimberly-Clark Corporation’s Sustainability 2015 initiative, launched in 2011, includes a number of five-year environmental goals. One of these is zero manufacturing waste to landfill by 2015. “We have been making incremental progress on this goal over the last 10 years,” said Mike Lloyd, Kimberly-Clark director of environmental sustainability.

One thing that has helped the company work toward this goal has been to adopt a different way of looking at waste. “We treat waste as a valuable material,” Lloyd said. “In fact, one of first things we did was start calling it secondary material, not waste, because we realize that it has value.”

Recycling is a big part of the company’s efforts. “If we can’t reuse it, we try to find other people who can,” Lloyd said. “In addition, if we do have to dispose of material, we want to be able to do it at the lowest possible cost.”

Successful Sludge Management

Approximately 18 percent of the company’s secondary material is landfilled, with approximately 90 percent of that coming from wastewater treatment plant sludge in the form of residual short fiber.

Many of Kimberly-Clark’s mills have found a number of successful ways to divert sludge from landfill. Some of the uses for the sludge include cement manufacturing, mine reclamation, animal bedding, digestion to create fuel for waste-to-energy projects, agricultural soil amendment, newsprint, corrugate manufacturing, building products (including adobe-style bricks), insulation products, solidification agents for waste liquids, and fuel for steam boilers.

For example, the company’s Kluang facility in Malaysia now supplies sludge to a local cement plant. The facility in Jenks, Oklahoma, has formed a partnership with a waste-to-energy plant, which accepts all of the sludge generated by that mill to make energy.

Maximizing Secondary Material Value

To deal with other secondary material in general, Kimberly-Clark utilizes a three-step process.

The first is to sort the material. “We have developed standard processes that take a global view,” said Lloyd. “Building on local efforts made by our mill environmental coordinators, we have built up a database of best practices from all our global facilities that enables us to identify the best sorting and segregation methods to recycle more.”

Using a standard sales process, the company has found a way to identify and talk about each individual secondary material stream, and has created names and codes for the streams. Each name and code refer to a particular type of material in a particular form. “This gives us a clearer picture of what is leaving our mills, using the same standard terms,” said Lloyd. “This allowed us to begin to identify opportunities for recycling.”

While the company has always relied a lot on the people in the mills to come up with ideas that worked for them, it now realizes that, in most cases, something that works in one plant is likely to work in most other plants with similar secondary material streams. “As a result, we share ideas among all of the plants,” he said.

To facilitate this process, the company has created cross-functional teams to look at secondary material management opportunities. Members include representatives from procurement, environmental and other departments.

The second step is to “densify” the secondary material. That is, according to Lloyd, if the mills bale certain material streams, they end up being more valuable for resale than if they are not baled. “We are able to sell the material when it is baled, instead of paying to have it landfilled when it is not baled,” he said. For example, if the company bales polypropylene, its value increases by about 50 percent. This is one of the ideas that is being shared from mill to mill. “We found that, when we installed a baler at one mill and were able to sell material for more, it made sense to install balers at other mills that had the same streams,” he said.

The third step is optimizing the value. “Once we identify the value of a stream, we look for ways to try to get as close to that value as possible when selling it, such as baling and using fewer vendors,” he said.

Well on the Way to Zero Landfill

Currently, 99.96 percent of the company’s secondary material is non-hazardous. In 2007, five percent of this was reused. By 2012 (the latest data available), 17.2 percent was reused and 12.3 percent was converted to energy.

“Company-wide, as of the end of the first quarter of 2013, we are 82 percent of our way to zero manufacturing waste to landfill,” said Lloyd. “Currently, 59 of our mills are completely zero manufacturing waste to landfill.”

Kimberly-Clark has been experiencing a lot of success with its secondary material management in North America. The next step is to expand these programs globally.

In addition, the company is focusing more attention on reducing the amount of manufacturing waste produced, which includes involvement from manufacturing teams and R&D. “We have developed tools for our R&D teams such as scorecards that allow us to evaluate the environmental impact of product and process changes, including waste, into our decision-making,” said Lloyd.

Learn more about Kimberly-Clark's environmental initiatives.

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