Putting Environmental Stewardship to Work for Your Business
As I was sitting in a seminar recently, the presenter commented on reusing material generally sold as scrap and how their business was practicing the three Rs—reduce, reuse, recycle. As I sat there, I recalled memories of time spent at my grandparents’ house. I spent many hours in the kitchen with my grandma and many more in my grandpa’s workshop. We would scavenge for old scraps of lumber and use old nails grandpa kept in tin coffee cans and glass jars. When we found what we were looking for, we would build and create birdhouses, skateboards, and other magical items. We also hunted the alley garbage cans for aluminum cans and glass pop bottles to recycle. Grandpa would take us to cash in the aluminum cans and the bottles we turned in. My grandparents were always finding ways to reuse items to recycle them into something new and treasured. These memories made me think about how we can be stewards of our environment by utilizing the three Rs and how many of the customers I visit in a workday are putting these concepts to work for them.
Reduce – The first R, reduce, focuses on keeping purchases to a minimum to reduce and lower consumption. A manufacturing plant I work with has started purchasing its raw material cut to length. This has decreased the storage space needed for raw product, moved a valuable employee to the production floor from handling the material and cutting to length, and decreased the amount of waste they create. The company gained valuable space in the plant, increased an employee’s production and cut waste, but also saved money as well.
Reuse – Reusing means taking items you might consider disposing of and finding a new use for them. A manufacturer that presented at the seminar I attended was discussing their recycling program. He mentioned they were building steel pallets out of the scrap material to use in place of wood pallets that were getting damaged and were no longer useful. By reusing material destined for the recycling bin they solved another problem they were facing.
Recycle – Recycling is the most well-known of the three Rs, and you are likely participating at home and work as well. Recycling takes old materials, including metal, plastics, and glass, and uses them to create new materials for consumers’ use. Recycling is more than placing items at your curb or in a bin in a parking lot—this collection process is only a small part of recycling. The recycling process has many facets as covered in this example of recycling steel:
- First, materials are collected including those leftover from manufacturers and fabrication shops.
- The material is then transported to a recycling facility.
- The recycling facility sorts, sizes, and processes the material into raw material consistent with specifications provided by the consumer. These consumers include steel mills and foundries.
- The consumer uses this recycled material to create new steel.
- The new steel is sold to end-users for use in the manufacturing industry as well as many others.
- The manufacturer and industries build new products including cars, appliances, tools, etc.
- The recycling process restarts with the collection of waste from manufacturing these products to be sent to the recycling facility again.
To truly demonstrate the application process of all three Rs, consider this example from a fabrication shop that does custom orders for their customers. They order the material they need cut to size (reduce). They donate all the scrap metal from their operation to a local community college’s welding program for students to practice their skills on (reuse). Finally, the material is sent to a recycling facility for processing (recycle). With a little effort and careful planning, we can all contribute to greener processes that lead to the protection of our earth’s resources.