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PRI's Environmental News Magazine

Industry Waste Swap

Air Date: Week of September 4, 1998

Many business managers know that recycling is a good way to reduce their landfill costs and improve their public images, but they don't have the time or the resources to recycle. The "Wastecap" program aims to tackle that problem. It convenes "swap meets" to match up companies that have excess materials with other firms that can give them a second life. New Hampshire Public Radio's Trish Anderton has an update on this initiative that's now up and running in at least eight states, from Wisconsin to Nebraska.

Transcript

CURWOOD: Many business managers know that recycling is a good way to reduce their landfill costs and improve their public images, but they don't have the time or the resources to recycle. The Wastecap Program aims to tackle that problem. It convenes swap meets to match up companies that have excess materials with other firms that can give them a second life. New Hampshire Public Radio's Trish Anderton has an update on this initiative that's now up and running in at least 8 states from Wisconsin to Nebraska.

(Ambient conversation)

ANDERTON: The Waste Match Fair at the New Hampshire Expo Center in Manchester looks like an ordinary trade fair. But it's really a novel industrial swap meet. A solid waste recycling company is here looking for businesses with sludge to sell. A shipping executive with too many wooden pallets is talking with a company that turns the pallets into fuel. And at a folding table on the left, engineer John Boucher of Manchester-based Velcro, USA, has some bits of plastic in little baggies he'd love to get rid of. Boucher says he has truck loads of this ground up velcro back at the factory.

BOUCHER: Customers want us to punch out different shapes of velcro, and after you punch out the shape they want you have the leftover. And a lot of that just gets landfilled.

ANDERTON: Boucher is hoping to find someone who has a use for this kind of material, perhaps a plastic company that can melt it and reshape it into a new product. He's talked to several possible takers already today.

BOUCHER: I've got some phone numbers and I'm looking forward to getting on the phone and seeing what I can do.

ANDERTON: The Waste Match Fair is organized by Wastecap, a nonprofit arm of the New Hampshire Business and Industry Association. Besides holding these swap meets, Wastecap offers companies free audits to help them figure out how to reduce, recycle, and reuse. The association started Wastecap in the early 90s, after the New Hampshire legislature set a goal of reducing waste statewide by 40% before the year 2000. The program's executive director, Barbara Bernstein, says it was designed in part to preclude the need for strict waste reduction laws.

BERNSTEIN: The Business and Industry Association felt that businesses proactively could reduce their waste without mandated legislation. Those kind of mandates are very expensive for businesses and end up really taking an inordinate amount of time.

ANDERTON: Wastecap also tries to woo executives with the notion that recycling is good for the bottom line. And here at Revamp, Incorporated, in Concord, a company that reprocesses copper wiring spools, that has proved to be true.

(Industrial, grinding sounds)

ANDERTON: In Revamp's warehouse, a teenager wearing safety goggles and protective headphones picks up an arm load of large plastic spools, each about the size of his head. He tosses the spools one by one into a hopper, where a grinding and granulating machine chews them up or sometimes, like a cranky toddler, spits them back out. The machine grinds the spools into pellets. Those pellets will be sent on to a manufacturing company where they'll eventually be reincarnated as plastic fencing and lawn furniture. Rich Gale is Revamp's marketing director. He says the company's main business is refurbishing these spools for the copper wire industry. Until a few years ago, spools that were too scratched or battered were simply discarded.

GALE: We decided we had to go with a grinder-granulator, because we didn't want to throw those things away, have them end up in landfills. So we started looking into other types of materials to handle, also.

ANDERTON: Through Wastecap, the company got involved with efforts to launch a recycling initiative for New Hampshire's booming computer industry. Now Revamp handles hundreds of tons of plastic packaging from the industry every year. The computer companies save money on waste disposal, and Gale says the new recycling activity played a large part in his company's 30% growth last year.

(Grinding sounds continue)

ANDERTON: Wastecap and other efforts have cut New Hampshire's total waste stream by a quarter over the course of the decade. That's an impressive number, but it's still short of the 40% goal set by the legislature. Recycling advocates say local programs like Wastecap are a good start, but not enough is being done yet on a national level to reduce the amount of solid waste going to landfills. Rick Best is chair of the Grassroots Recycling Network. He says government should take a more active role. Best points, for example, to a recent change in German law that led industry there to create a nationwide recycling network.

BEST: The industry came out and developed this Green Dot system where everything that has a green dot, it's a green dot that's put on the package, can be recycled in a nationwide system that was set up. And that's been tremendously successful. There's tremendously high recovery rates, and it's very easy for the public to know what materials are part of this program and can be recycled.

ANDERTON: Even if programs such as Wastecap ultimately fall short, they have helped develop a recycling industry. There is a generational business dynamic visible here at the Waste Match Fair. There are older companies with waste, and young upstarts that have sprung up to reprocess it. That kind of partnership is likely to prove necessary to any long-term waste reduction strategy. For Living on Earth, I'm Trish Anderton in Concord, New Hampshire.

 

 

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