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BW Businessworld

A Zero Waste World

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Procter & Gamble (P&G) makes incense sticks in India. And, Tata Motors pavement bricks. No, these are not new businesses for them. Rather, they are byproducts of waste from their manufacturing processes. Many companies, like P&G and Tata Motors, now see waste as a resource, albeit with a different name.

With overall costs (energy, raw material) and environmental concerns (emission regulations, water shortage, waste disposal, customer perception) on the rise, eliminating waste is now critical for all businesses. There is a strong business case too. Pradeep Banerjee, executive director, manufacturing and supply chain, Hindustan Unilever (HUL), says, “When you reduce waste, you intrinsically become cost-efficient as well.” At HUL, 30 of its 38 factories in India are zero-landfill.

There are others on the list too. SABMiller aims to save 20 billion litres of water by 2015. Consumer products major Reckitt Benckiser (RB) announced in 2012 that eight of its manufacturing sites globally, including three in India, sent zero manufacturing waste to landfills (at other facilities, 72 per cent of the total waste is used somewhere else).

The three P&G manufacturing sites in India (Baddi in Himachal Pradesh, Bhiwadi in Rajasthan and Mandideep in Madhya Pradesh) are among its 45 sites globally that have achieved zero-waste status. P&G’s efforts have created over $1 billion in value for the company in the past five years. It now ensures that 99 per cent of all materials that enter its plants leave the facility as finished products or are recycled, reused or converted to energy. In Mexico, paper sludge from a Charmin toilet tissue plant is turned into low-cost roof tiles. At a site manufacturing Pampers products in the US, scrap from the diaper and wipe-manufacturing process is converted into upholstery filling. And, in the UK, waste from production of Gillette shaving foam is composted and then used to grow turf for commercial purposes. In India, the company reuses waste to produce liquid soap and incense sticks.

In 2012, Unilever identified over 600 employee-suggested projects, with the best 100 to be implemented in 2013. The company claims to have cut down waste disposal at manufacturing sites globally by as much as 50 per cent in 2012 from 2008 levels. And, in doing so, it has managed to save €10 million and avoided costs of €186 million. In 2012, Unilever diverted 76,000 tonnes (about 1 million household bins) of factory waste to landfills, lower than what the company sent out in 2008.

Zero waste is not a post that is found at the end of the production cycle. Dave Challis, director for global sustainability, environment, health and safety, Reckitt Benckiser, says, “It’s a collection of small things that add up. We look at each waste stream and see how we can cut the waste generated by the process, before we think about better ways to reduce the waste that remains.”

The company looks at different sub-heads — waste connected to raw materials; production waste (including maintenance); finished product waste; general plant waste (including office waste). It then identifies the largest sources of waste and considers how they can be eliminated. “Finally, we look at the disposal of waste that remains and consider ways to avoid landfill — such as, recycling onsite, recycling by third parties and energy recovery.  This can involve anything from installing new recycling bins, more frequent audits, or working with new external partners,” says Challis.

Packing A Punch
The main waste reduction target for many companies, especially those in consumer goods, is packaging. At RB, the company assesses packaging at the very start of the development cycle. It endeavours to make packaging more efficient — aiming for less packaging per dose of a product. The company has a policy for responsible sourcing of natural raw materials such as paper and board. All these steps have helped it reduce waste intensity globally by 12 per cent. Its total recycled waste has risen from 61 per cent in 2001 to 72 per cent in 2012. “We know there’s more that we can do, which is why we have set a goal to send zero waste to landfills by 2020,” asserts Challis.

Other companies believe that the best way to cut waste is by consuming less to begin with. “The zero-waste strategy is integrated into the operations instead of end-of-process treatment and disposal. This helps reduce the cost of end-processing of waste and improve material and energy efficiencies,” says a spokesperson for Tata Chemicals.

Kanish Malik, vice-president operations (beverages), PepsiCo India, says the company is committed to focusing on areas where it can contribute to, influence and directly control waste elimination, such as water, a crucial input in the beverage business. PepsiCo India executives say the target, by 2015, is to reduce water usage for every unit of product by 20 per cent and fuel intensity by 25 per cent. The company claims it has already cut energy consumption by 40 per cent for every product unit (energy footprint is calculated as the amount of energy needed to produce every case of beverage), and water consumption by 24 per cent.

Waste reduction initiatives inside manufacturing facilities are about water, energy and packaging. For packaging, PepsiCo looks at minimising and recycling. “However, we have to keep in mind that there needs to be a balance between expectations that consumers have of quality and what we can do with waste elimination. One thing cannot take over the other,” points out Malik. In beverages, for instance, poor quality of the plastic bottle can affect the product. “Too much does not add value. Too little does not serve the purpose. Use optimum material at each stage,” adds HUL’s Banerjee.

Over the past two years, PepsiCo claims to have significantly reduced the weight of the PET bottles it uses. It says it has eliminated over 144 tonnes of material in packaging thanks to optimisation initiatives. “A lot of this also has to do with the evolution of technology. Many of our initiatives are linked to the technology upgrade that happens with our core equipment manufacturers,” says Malik.

HUL’s Banerjee, however, warns that when companies do a standalone evaluation of intrinsic returns of a packaging machine, the lower cost machine might seem economical. “But if you evaluate the entire lifecycle, it will be costlier. Invest in technology that has more reliable operating windows so that when you buy 1 kg of packaging, you use 1 kg. In lower-grade technology, you might be able to use only 95 per cent,” he says.

HUL is taking a hard look at other such details. For instance, in shampoos, it has tried to reduce the overlap in material between the cap and the bottle. This may seem too small in the overall scheme of waste elimination, but the volumes justify the cost benefits. “Some machines can do 1 mm overlap, while some have a 3 mm overlap in packaging. The choice is obvious if your company is opting for lifecycle costing,” says Banerjee.

The war on waste has now reached vendors’ doors. If a bottle needs more material per unit of consumption, then shift to a flexi pouch — this and other options came out of initiatives involving vendors. At HUL’s plant at Haridwar, integration with vendors helped the company map and design what it used and what the vendor provided. “We are able to eliminate waste in a combined chain. Almost 80 per cent of the effort is really in the design to make optimum use of resources,” says Banerjee.

Tata Motors is another company that is serious about reducing its packaging footprint. It has increased the use of sustainable packaging (replacing wood with metal and plastic) and the reuse of existing packaging (by recycling wood). It has also embarked on an awareness drive among its suppliers on reduction in use of fresh packaging material. In collaboration with its suppliers, Tata Motors has developed custom-built collapsible polypropylene (PP) boxes for components like dashboards that are difficult to handle. “These custom-built reusable packaging solutions have significantly reduced our packaging material requirements,” says a company spokesperson. For example, at its Jamshedpur plant, Tata Motors was able to avoid using 57,153 cubic feet of wood as packaging material in 2011-12 by using corrugated fibre boxes instead. Its Pune plant is working with vendors to shift from conventional non-reusable packaging to returnable and reusable packaging. “We were able to eliminate the need for packaging air brake tubes at the Pune plant by shifting from PP boxes to returnable steel trolleys,” says a company executive.
Photograph by Umesh Goswami
By 2015, all of Unilever’s 252 factories worldwide are expected to achieve the distinction of zero non-hazardous waste sent to landfill. In 2012, only about 50 per cent had achieved that target, but 31 of the company’s 38 factories in India call themselves zero-landfill.

However, the bigger target for HUL’s parent, the Anglo-Dutch consumer goods major, Unilever, is that while it is expected to double its turnover by 2020, it also has to cut down its environmental footprint by almost half of what it was in 2008.
In India, HUL reduced water consumption by almost 40 per cent per tonne of production in 2012. But the big guns are trained on packaging. After all, 33 per cent of all waste was paper and board in 2011-12, says a global study by Unilever.

HUL has taken various steps — big and small — to reduce this. In fact, it says the projects implemented in 2012 can reduce annual consumption of plastic by more than 1,500 tonnes and paper by over 700 tonnes. At Amli, shampoo and fabric conditioner sachets are now packaged using 130 kg rolls instead of 80 kg ones. This has cut wastage by almost 35 per cent.

Batch dates and manufacturing details were earlier printed using inkjet printers. If the manufacturing did not go as per schedule, this material would go to waste. Now, details are embossed on the packaging tubes or laser printed onto stickers.
Stickers are replacing wraparound packaging. By 2020, HUL plans to cut down on the weight of packaging by 33 per cent by using lightweight materials and developing concentrated versions of its products. Already, it offers refill pouches for products like Kissan sauces and Lifebuoy handwash liquids.

Transport packaging has now moved from the one-time-use corrugated cardboard cartons to reusable polymer cartons, which can be used around 120 times. Company executives say this has helped cut down wastage by almost 65 per cent.

There is an ‘inside’ story too. HUL has cut the size of the carton to half and uses bottle-hugging plastic wraps to protect the product. The new inner carton, which looks like a tray, can also be just loaded onto a product shelf. This helps large format stores save time and manpower.

Energy Efficiency
After packaging (and sometimes before it) comes reducing energy wastage. This is mostly done using technology. PepsiCo, for instance, has optimised some of its product formulations and upgraded equipment to reduce the energy needed to fill its products. With the help of external partners and technology, the company has reduced the need to heat water to very high temperatures for sanitising manufacturing lines.

At another level, PepsiCo keeps improving the energy efficiency of its operations through best practices picked up from within plants, equipment partners and from other industries. For example, all its beverage plants now use biomass as fuel. At its Kolkata plant, PepsiCo has installed a Vapour Absorption Machine, which utilises the flash steam of a boiler to generate the equivalent of 300 tonnes of refrigeration. “We save 1 mm per kwh annually, and it is being extended to other plants,” says Malik.

At HUL, efficient energy use ranges from using leftover coffee extracts as fuel to reducing the use of steam. “How to recover energy from steam — reheat or convert it to lower grade energy that can be used elsewhere? Everything starts with process design to make sure that steam is not wasted,” says Banerjee. In some cases, better technology has enabled the company to treat waste water and reuse it.

At PepsiCo, improved sanitation protocols mean that plants now take half the time to sanitise production lines than they in the past. Malik adds that a global PepsiCo Advanced Research Team is working with the India business on a pilot programme to do with the next level of breakthrough innovations in water efficiency.
Photo Courtesy: Tata Motors
Waste? What Waste?
As the process of zero waste extends throughout the production chain, there is now renewed focus on the last stage: the refuse itself. Tata Motors disposes of waste in an environmentally sound manner. Along with a vendor, the automaker has developed technology to convert paint sludge, a significant hazardous waste, into grey casting sealer paint and an anticorrosive black paint, which are used at its Jamshedpur plant. The recycled grey casting sealer is used to paint the cylinder blocks in its foundry division and anticorrosive black paint is used for painting engines, truck chassis frames, transmission housings and axle assemblies. The company’s Pune plant also procures the recycled paint for floor painting.

Apart from recycling and reusing the paint sludge, the Jamshedpur plant manufactures pavement bricks from ash produced after incinerating waste. Tata Motors says that the Jamshedpur plant manufactured 278,131 bricks of 80 mm size using about 290 million tonnes of incineration ash and sludge from the effluent treatment plant. “We are also working with cement companies to explore the opportunities for co-processing various types of wastes, including plastics,” says a company spokesperson. The Jamshedpur plant conducted trials to process plastic waste at ACC Cement Works, Chaibasa, while the Pantnagar plant is working with Ambuja Cements.

At another group company, Tata Chemicals, all manufacturing facilities have set goals to achieve zero pollution and zero liquid discharge as part of the Green Manufacturing Index. The approach in new facilities — like the fertiliser plant at Babrala — has been to implement technologies that have in-built waste treatment and reuse schemes. At older facilities, it is a series of revamps and retrofits. Even Tata Chemicals works closely with cement manufacturers. For example, the Mithapur facility is working on recovering inorganic solids from the wastewater from its soda ash plant. Fly ash from the captive power plant is fully utilised in cement production. The phos-gypsum waste from the phosphate plant at Haldia is fully recovered and sold to cement producers.

The chemical and fertiliser businesses are energy intensive. So, “the availability of energy and its cost are major challenges for this industry”, says a company spokesperson. Hence, making optimum usage of renewable resources is key to the company’s strategy of cutting down wastage. All facilities are exploring the possibilities of use of wind and solar energy. The use of solar energy in the salt pans for production of Solar Salt is one example of the use of renewable energy at Tata Chemicals. The company is also evaluating innovative technologies to eliminate some of the waste at its townships and factories by converting them to biomass.

Customer Participation
Apart from looking at internal processes, some companies have taken waste management to the next level: the consumer.

Watch and jewellery maker Titan has made “a small but firm beginning”: it collects batteries from points of sale for safe disposal at its factory.

HUL is working with Bharti’s retail venture EasyDay to collect used packaging and give consumers rebates on HUL products. In another project, the company is looking at converting plastic into oil and using it for boilers. “We may not succeed in everything we do. But if the technology is available, why not learn,” says Banerjee.

Consumption no longer equals piles of waste.

(This story was published in BW | Businessworld Issue Dated 02-12-2013)