Supply Chain Management / Inventory Management

Trash? Not so fast. How to rescue your refuse.

Sheila Kennedy says these companies aim to make the most of used or unwanted stuff.

By Sheila Kennedy, contributing editor

End-of-life and excess industrial materials are rapidly transitioning from a burden to an asset. Opportunities for repurposing, upcycling, resale, and depackaging now accompany the traditional reduce, reuse, and recycle options. In addition, new tools and strategies for industrial wastewater reuse are gaining steam.

Finding new purpose

A benchmarking study of Investment Recovery Association members found that “on average, almost 20% of their total assets at any point in time are surplus to the needs of the organization.” Investments made in assets that are later retired, obsolete, expired, off-specification, overstocked, decommissioned, or otherwise unwanted can be recovered in a variety of ways.

Damon Carson, founder and president of repurposedMATERIALS, likens his business to an industrial thrift store. “Our niche in the ‘reduce, reuse, recycle’ space is finding very different second lives for materials that are obsolete to the primary industry,” he says.

Examples of byproducts or waste streams given a second life include conveyor belting repurposed as track matting by equipment operators who don’t want to tear up asphalt roads and turf with their big machines or an obsolete cable repurposed as a hand railing in a luxury condominium building. IBC totes, steel pipe, pallets, and chemicals are other examples of items available for purchase or sale.

Radwell International buys and sells surplus industrial equipment. Through its Asset Recovery program, Radwell pays cash for unneeded parts and products such as industrial automation equipment, PLCs, drives, motors, electronic parts, circuit boards, meters, sensors, and similar inventory. Its Advanced Exchange program allows units to be repaired or exchanged for surplus stock. The company safely disposes of parts that no longer have value.

Rubicon Global provides consolidated waste and recycling services for manufacturers and other industrial companies. Frank Killoran, director of customer solutions at Rubicon Global, says the quality of recycled commodities has become extremely important as supply increases and buyers have become more selective.

“A big part of Rubicon’s mission is to work with our customers to prevent and minimize their industrial and manufacturing byproducts as part of their overall operational directive,” Killoran explains. Where byproducts remain, recycling is offered. He offers the food industry as an example, saying: “We have continued to find innovative solutions for repurposing and reuse of industrial fat, oil, and grease.”

Purposeful purchasing

Reusable industrial packaging will play a greater role in purchasing decisions in the coming years, suggests Paul Rankin, president of the Reusable Industrial Packaging Association (RIPA). RIPA touts the sustainability of reusable, reconditioned packaging. It commissioned a 2015 study from EY (Ernst & Young) that found significant carbon savings as a result of using multitrip containers versus equivalent single-trip containers, and the savings were found to go up with each reuse.

“Companies throughout North America are beginning to favor reusable industrial packaging because of its sustainability characteristics, which can be reported in their annual sustainability reports,” Rankin says. “In addition, reusable packaging plays an important role in the emerging effort to move toward a circular (regenerative) economy approach.”

Depackaging finished goods

Surplus industrial inventory can be kept out of landfills via depackaging, an industrial recycling and reuse innovation from Covanta Environmental Solutions. “Our specially designed UnWrapp system provides a recycling option for packaged goods that may be expired, off-specification, or otherwise unusable,” says Paul Stauder, president of the company. “The product may be recycled, composted, converted to electricity, or treated for discharge to the local wastewater treatment plant.”

Preserving precious resources

Zero-waste strategies increasingly incorporate water and energy conservation. Covanta safely recycles wastewater back into productive use through publicly owned treatment plants. “We process more than 150 million gallons of industrial wastewater annually, offering a better solution then solidifying at a landfill or deep-well injection,” says Stauder.

Emilio Tenuta, vice president of sustainability at Ecolab, says no resource has more circular potential than water, yet less than 3% of wastewater is currently reused. Ecolab is “helping companies move beyond reduction through conservation and efficiency to a circular model based on recycling, reusing, and repurposing water,” he says.

Ecolab, an early adopter of the internet of things (IoT), uses proprietary technology and Big Data analytics to help customers continuously monitor their water systems, provide real-time feedback, detect change, and take corrective action to resolve problems before they occur. The company’s water performance ecosystem includes on-site technical services, connected 3D TRASAR controllers, chemistry, and a 24/7/365 System Assurance Center.