There’s an expectation that environmental activities such as recycling have a positive impact on the planet, but in Kevin Sargent’s case, he wasn’t so sure.
Sargent is the President and CEO of Hebert’s Recycling Inc. — a company that collects and processes used non-refillable beverage containers from collection depots across New Brunswick. He says the transportation and processing costs associated with recycling were negating the environmental impact the recycling was trying to achieve; at least, until his company came up with a solution that both lowered its costs and reduced its carbon footprint.
New Brunswick’s program
New Brunswick operates a fee-based extended producer responsibility and stewardship program. Distributors of products in non-refillable containers must register their products with the province’s Department of Environment. New Brunswickers pay a 10-cent deposit on each nonrefillable non-alcoholic container they purchase. Distributors, through their industry stewardship agency Encorp Atlantic Inc., are responsible for collecting and processing the spent containers. (Alcoholic beverage containers are managed by a separate agency.)
The province has 80 licensed collection depots; each non-alcoholic container is worth five cents upon return. In this “half-back” system, half of the remaining five cents from the deposit is used to pay for the recycling and processing; the other half is contributed to the New Brunswick Environmental Trust Fund.
Transporting and processing
Hebert’s Recycling works for Encorp and collects the used containers from the depots. In the past, this involved seven trucks and 14 trailers traveling across the province to pick up trailer loads of 84 cubic meter bags filled with containers.
“We were transporting bottles of air,” says Sargent.
The weight of the 84-bag loads was about 5,000 to 6,000 pounds, but the trailers could hold up to 45,000 pounds. Since the volume of product to be collected exceeded the trailers’ capacity, drivers often made additional trips to collect all the bags, leaving trailers in the field so that further pick-ups could be made the following day.
The used containers were then brought to Hebert’s Miramichi processing centre. Sargent says fuel and maintenance costs were high and he questioned the net environmental impact of the recycling. Three years ago, the company began developing a technology that would allow the drivers to preprocess the containers in the field.
Thus, the Enviropactor was born. Sargent describes the machine, which sits inside the trailer, as a very intricate baler. It crushes the product inside the one-cubic-meter bags to about one-third the size, allowing the trailers to carry over 240 bags, rather than 84. The Enviropactor also preprocesses the product in a way that preserves each individual unit, so that auditing activities, when applicable, can still be carried out.
When Sargent equipped each of the company’s trailers with Enviropactors he saw significant savings within only a few months. The company now has only four trucks and four trailers.
“Our trailers’ capacity now exceeds the volume of product we collect,” says Sargent. The company’s manpower and maintenance costs are reduced, and the logistics of servicing the redemption centers is simplified, he adds. He also notes that preprocessing the products in the field means one third of the work is completed before the trucks return to the centre. This makes the plastic grinding operation more effective, as the product is more readily accepted by the equipment. The company has reduced the amount of space it needs to process the product by about 50 per cent.
Perhaps the most significant result is the fuel savings. Sargent says since equipping the trailers with Enviropactors, the company has reduced its fuel needs by 20,000 to 30,000 litres per month. This translates into a significant financial savings. Sargent also believes the energy efficiency savings could lead to greenhouse gas credits.
“It’s evident to us that we have reduced our carbon footprint and are making a real difference for the environment now,” he adds.
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Jennifer Holloway is Web Editor of EcoLog in Toronto, Ontario. Contact Jennifer at email@example.com. This article first appeared in our affiliate Internet-and email-based environmental news service. Learn about subscribing at www.ecolog.com