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Covanta Environmental Solutions Sponsored Series

Your Corporate Guide to Responsible Waste Management

P&G and Microsoft Demonstrate How to Move Beyond Recycling


Did a waste audit reveal your company’s recycling program isn’t exactly where you want it to be? Don’t be discouraged. Most companies hit pitfalls along the way, but those that stick with it can emerge as industry leaders. Take Procter and Gamble (P&G) and Microsoft, for example, which lead the consumer packaged goods and electronics industries in recycling.

Procter and Gamble (P&G) set a goal to send zero manufacturing waste to landfill by 2020. So far, 56 percent of its global production sites send zero manufacturing waste to local landfills.

Although it has less than three years left, the company is optimistic it can meet its 2020 goal -- an achievement P&G says will keep about 65,000 metric tons of waste out of landfills. That is equivalent to the weight of almost 350,000 mid-sized cars.

Manufacturing waste makes up about 95 percent of the waste P&G produces, with the remainder coming from its offices and tech center programs. The company works toward its 2020 goal by looking at waste through a new lens. As it states on its website: “The key is to not see anything as trash, but material with potential use.”

Part of a successful recycling program is to reuse waste whenever possible. P&G offers a number of examples of reusing waste across its supply chain, including in Hungary where employees collect production scraps and send them to a local cement company that incinerates them to make energy for bricks.

“We made a strategic decision in the late 1980s to ensure our packaging could be recovered, recycled and reused in our new packages,” Virginie Helias, global VP of sustainability for P&G, told TriplePundit. “We solicited help from multiple partners, built new supply chains and, most importantly, committed to using post-consumer recycled plastic in our bottles.”

How a partnership can help a company

Sometimes a company needs to partner with key recycling industry leaders to overcome plateaus and achieve their goals.

P&G recently partnered with TerraCycle and SUEZ to produce a shampoo bottle made from up to 25 percent recycled beach plastic. The bottle of Head and Shoulders shampoo will debut this summer in French retailer Carrefour. And the rollout will eventually represent the world's largest production of recyclable bottles made with post-consumer recycled beach plastic.

The idea for the shampoo bottle came about a year ago at the World Economic Forum in Davos, Switzerland, when the Ellen MacArthur Foundation challenged P&G to “drive greater recovery and reuse of plastics,” Helias told us.

P&G felt Head and Shoulders, the “the leading shampoo brand in sales,” should be the label to “lead in sustainability innovation," Helias said. 

The bottle is the “first major step in establishing a unique supply chain, strengthening the circular economy both in the [consumer packaged goods] industry and beyond for the significant amount of plastic waste in our ecosystem,” Helias explained.
P&G’s partnership with TerraCycle and SUEZ “brought about the largest solution to ocean plastic to date in terms of volume and percentage used in the package,” Tom Szaky, CEO and founder, TerraCycle told TriplePundit.

The “problem of ocean plastic is immense,” Szaky explained. Over 25 percent of global plastic waste winds up in marine systems. “Only with a project that provide business value will we be able to clean up the plastic clogging our beaches, rivers, inlets and other waterways,” he said.

P&G will also include up to 25 percent post-consumer plastic in over half a billion bottles in Europe by the end of 2018. That will represent over 90 percent of all P&G’s hair care bottles sold in Europe. P&G has used recycled plastic in its packaging for over 25 years -- and it used 34,100 metric tons in 2016. Helias said the company “committed" to using post-consumer recycled material and helping to "build a marketplace by providing consistent end markets.”

A good recycling program gets employees involved

Businesses will recycle “much more of their waste if employees are on board with recycling initiatives,” according to a report from John’s Refuse and Recycling, a recycling facility in Connecticut.

That’s something Microsoft knows all about. Its Redmond, Washington, dining facilities divert 99 percent of their waste from landfill -- thanks in part to its use of compostable tableware and employees disposing of their waste properly. “Microsoft started nine years ago using compostable products and went to fully compostable dining ware in July 2008,” Mohan Reddy Guttapalem, Microsoft senior facilities manager, told TriplePundit.

Microsoft’s Redmond campus achieved gold-level zero waste certification from the U.S. Zero Waste Business Council. The company managed to divert at least 90 percent of its food, office and construction waste from landfills. And employee-driven reuse, recycling and composting programs helped the company reach its milestone. 

Coping with plateaus and challenges

“Plateaus are part of every program,” Guttapalem said. The key is to take them in stride and prevent them from negatively impacting a program.

Microsoft stays on track by setting targets that overshoot its goals. “This allows us a bit of a buffer for those times when plateaus occur,” he explained.

Microsoft also likes to conduct complete audits frequently, including periodically auditing waste streams and an annual audit of its waste-hauling vendor, Guttapalem said. The company then tailors its "outreach programs to the employees based on the results.” 

Having a clear vision is part of keeping a recycling program steady. P&G’s vision is “toward 100 percent” zero manufacturing waste to landfill, so until that goal is achieved, “our work will continue,” Helias said.

To achieve its goal, Helias said the company is willing to “remain engaged, working tirelessly to reach our vision, and collaborate with like-minded partners to achieve our vision.” She acknowledges that achieving such a goal is “not an easy task,” but she said P&G is “a long-term player” as its decades of recycling efforts show.

“Consumers want to recycle, and we see our role to provide sustainable choices as a necessity,” Helias said. “With this clear vision and resolve, we work tirelessly to break down barriers and strive to achieve our vision."
Image credit: Stephen Brashear/Getty Images for Microsoft (press use only)
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Gina-Marie is a freelance writer and journalist armed with a degree in journalism, and a passion for social justice, including the environment and sustainability. She writes for various websites, and has made the 75+ Environmentalists to Follow list by Mashable.com.

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