Archive for March, 2009

Goodwill Summaries: Wood Scrap

Wood and Furniture Scrap
Wood is a renewable, recyclable resource, but is seldom recycled due to the unavailability of options.  Wood is sometimes ground up and turned into boiler fuel, though the classification of this as “recycling” is dubitable, considering that burned wood releases many of the same greenhouse gases that burning oil or coal does.

Goodwill receives donations of unsalable wood furniture, most of which are currently compacted and landfilled.  We also have various scrap wood pieces from pallets that until recently were landfilled as well.  Part of my job over the course of the internship was to research alternative options for this wood.  Unfortunately, after I contacted more than 10 companies in various industries, including construction and demolition (C&D) waste management, furniture manufacture, retail, repair and consignment, no interested furniture recycler was found.  Most companies contacted said that when they could not sell or use the furniture, they simply put it in the dumpster to go to the landfill.  One company, Adeal Wood Recycling from Wisconsin Rapids, does accept pure wood waste for grinding into boiler fuel, but as they not only charge for this service but require all metal bits removed from the wood, this is not a profitable nor practical recycling option for wood furniture for Goodwill.

My final recommendation for furniture donations is that Goodwill continue deferring as many donations of furniture to other venues (such as other local thrift shops that handle more furniture) when possible.  Goodwill should continue compacting the remaining unsalable furniture until more research can be done on the cost and environmental effectiveness of wood recycling options.


Goodwill Summaries: Plastic Bags

Plastic Bags
Plastic bags are distributed at supermarkets and shopping malls across the world, wherever goods are sold.  Thought these bags can technically be recycled after use, only 1-3% of bags are recycled due to a lack of availability of recycling options.  Most plastic bags therefore end up in the landfill, where they take 240 years to decompose in sunlight, but sometimes never decompose in normal landfill conditions.

At Goodwill, donations are often received in plastic bags, both typical shopping bags as well as black and white garbage bags.  Though these bags likely do not compose a large percentage by weight of the waste landfilled by Goodwill, they are a very visible waste, and there is lots of enthusiasm from Goodwill Team Members for finding an alternative disposal outlet.  As part of my research, I contacted 14 total companies, and, of these, only one will take plastic garbage bags.  Mountain Valley Recyclers, out of Tennessee accepts baled plastic bags and stretch film in truckload and less than truckload quantities. This could potentially be a profitable disposal outlet for plastic bags (as well as industrial stretch film, which Goodwill uses a lot of as well), particularly as the market returns.

Goodwill Summaries: Books

Pulper Books
Goodwill gets lots of books donated to our stores.  Most of these, we try to sell either in the stores or online through the E-Commerce Team.  Those we can’t sell go to a salvage book dealer.  Those we can’t  sell even to salvage (to damaged, missing pages or covers, etc.) currently get sent to the landfill.  The amount landfilled, if all 21 stores begin collecting books, amounts to about one truckload of 42,000lbs per month.

One of my tasks over the past couple months has been to find an alternative outlet for the landfilled books.  Since books are just paper, one would think that they would be simple to recycle.  However, the binding contains special pastes that contaminate and gum up conventional paper or pulp recyclers.  This means that a facility capable of recycling books must have the machinery and man-power necessary to cut off the bindings of these books prior to putting them into a fiber pulper.  Thus, of the 14 fiber recycling companies I contacted in a search for a book/fiber recycler, only a few were able to recycle books.  The Grossman Group, Inc. offers book recycling services and, because I found them early in my search, has already taken two shipments of books from Goodwill.  I also found for other fiber recyclers potentially interested in recycling books for Goodwill, with whom negations are currently being done.  Though currently the pulper fiber market is so depressed that no compensation is being provided, as the market returns the companies Goodwill sends books to will start providing compensation for our product.

Goodwill Summaries: E-Waste

On Monday, I finished up my internship at Goodwill by giving a final presentation to their Protect the Planet team.  I reported on all the findings I made for each of the categories of waste I was researching: e-waste, pulper books, plastic bags, wood and furniture scrap, glass/ceramics scrap, and (added at a later date) bike scrap.  I’ll post my finished reports here at a later date for anyone who wants to read more details.  But for now, I’ll just summarize my recommendations for each of the categories in a series of short posts for easier searching.

Globally, e-waste makes up 2% of the waste stream.  However, disposal of this waste is largely unregulated (except for as toxic waste regulations apply).  Legislation makes it illegal for consumers to put TVs in their curbside trash cans without providing a better option for e-waste disposal; you have to get a special permit from the fire department or other locally certified department to put your TV out on the curb, where it is then taken to the landfill and disposed of has hazardous waste.  Still, most consumer’s do not know about this single (often unpublicized) option for electronics disposal, and so, according to the EPA, an estimated 100 million dead TVs and computer monitors take up space in American basements, attics, and garages.

At Goodwill, people dump TVs and other electronics on our doorstep at midnight, because we refuse most of them during regular donation hours.  E-waste disposal costs the non-profit over $10,000 annually ($11,047 in 2008) to dispose of nearly 1,000lbs/wk.  Most of this waste is large TVs and CRT computer monitors.  Currently, Goodwill recycles this waste with File 13, a certified local e-recycler that guarantees that no components of their recycling process go offshore for export and all are handled according to US environmental and toxic waste regulations.  As Goodwill is happy with this relationship and File 13 charges a competitive rate for their services, I recommended to the organization that no change in e-recycling procedures be made except to try to reduce the disposal costs by educating donation attendants about the costs of accepting e-waste and about alternative disposal options.  I also created a flyer outlining the available local disposal options for e-waste to be distributed at the door to donors looking for an outlet for e-waste.

“Paired” Business Proposals

As part of my internship, I’ve been reading the book Green to Gold: How Smart Companies Use Environmental Strategy to Innovate, Create Value and Build Competitive Advantage, by Daniel Esty and Andrew Winston.  In it, I read recently about the concept of “pairing” proposals in the business world.  At a basic level, this idea consists of pitching two separate but related business proposals together under one heading.  This is useful when pitching environmentally-friendly efforts, because not all “green” efforts are cost effective.  So, project managers can “pair” two projects together—one that may cost a little or not pay off as quickly but where the environmental benefits are clear, and another where there are both environmental gains as well as substantial financial savings—and thereby pass both proposals with upper management, because the average cost savings or pay off time meets the company’s “hurdle rate,” or minimum benefit or pay off time.  Thus, for example, a project that would save a significant amount of money in reduced packaging can be paired with one that would require use of recyclable—but more expensive—materials to make that packaging.

Initially, the idea of “paired” proposals struck me as something that would only be of use for large, multi-national companies, with multiple manufacturing plants that could, say, switch to more efficient heating or lighting infrastructure, in one state with a tax rebate, and in another without.  But the more I thought about it, I think there is possibility for use of this in Goodwill.  Many of the options for diverting items from the landfill are not cost effective on their own.  But there are some options that result in substantial savings.  As my co-workers and I conduct research investigating the various options for recycle or resale of previously-landfilled materials, it is possible that a cost-effective and environmentally justifiable set of options could be proposed for dealing with a number of different waste streams.  For instance, paying $6.00 per ton (or $0.003 per lb) for wood and furniture scrap to be ground into boiler fuel may not on its own be a cost-effective non-landfill disposal option for wood scrap, but if paired with plastic bag recycling, which could be a potentially lucrative non-landfill disposal option yielding between $0.06-0.08 per pound in revenue, the two environmentally beneficial policies could be implemented together, and still, on average, make money—$0.057-0.077 per lb of wood and plastic combined.

More data will have to be gathered on specific costs or compensation from landfill diversion of various wastes as well as on the amounts diverted before this can be truly proposed as an option.  Still, I find it an intriguing possibility of getting around the conventional business parameters of cost-effectiveness and efficiency.  And a very useful tool when it comes to convincing a business to convert to environmentally sustainable practices.

Source: Green to Gold (Esty & Winston)