Sustainability is morally right, but in business, sustainability has to make business sense, too. For Prairie State Group’s (PSG) executives and managers, sustainability is a major goal, when it does not interfere with product or service quality. And being able to quantify how these practices make an impact, both environmentally and monetarily, is important.

Executives and management at PSG made tough decisions in production to reduce waste and cost. Dan Doherty, PSG’s executive vice president/principal, has encouraged all of his employees to submit ideas that could make the company more sustainable. “We encourage process improvement through our plant-wide idea program, GIFT – Great Ideas for Today. Recently, a GIFT incentive program resulted in 93 new ideas from our employees; many of these ideas reflected our organization’s commitment to sustainability,” says Doherty.

Drum Recycling

PSG’s green initiatives continue to flow through the rest of the company. Recognizing that empty solvent drums were being thrown away into the compactor, the company decided to come up with an answer to alleviate that.

“Since partnering with a local drum recycling company, we have recycled 224 drums in 2009 and 384 drums in 2010. This means less waste in our local landfills as well as less use of natural resources to manufacture new drums. We have seen 100 percent improvement in the overall waste reduction program here at PSG as a direct result of this waste not being in our compactor,” Doherty says.

Raw Material Waste Reclamation

“At over 250 five- to eight-color orders a month, we generate plenty of make-ready and waste rolls. Approximately 90 percent of these flexible packaging rolls were being loaded into the compactor. We found and partnered with a company that regrinds waste rolls to be used in other manufacturing processes,” explains Doherty.

PSG’s quantifiable numbers for landfill waste include 2,068,300 pounds of waste in 2008; 1,361,260 pounds in 2009; and now 1,108,460 pounds in 2010. Implementation of this initiative has reduced landfill waste by 47 percent since 2008.

“As a result, the frequency with which we have waste hauled away from our facility has diminished, going from 3 pick ups a week to less than one. Of course, this also saves us [money in] hauling and dumping fees,” Doherty explains. “We saw a savings of nearly $45,000 in 2010 over what we spent for waste removal in 2008-2009. We would highly recommend this initiative to our colleagues, as it has an easy implementation once a holding area is designated to gather the material to be recycled.”

Press Wash Recycling

PSG sought to lower its press wash solvent waste as well. In 2008, PSG contributed to 136 drums of spent solvent press wash. PSG decided that something needed to change.

“The first step in the reduction was to implement a program that allowed us to reuse the dirty press wash two to three times, reducing our disposal by 103 drums in 2009. The waste stream was reviewed again in June 2010 and we removed contaminates, which allowed us to reduce our number again, this time to 86 drums,” Doherty explains.

“During the last six months of 2010, only 33 drums of solvent press wash waste were generated. We installed a solvent recycling system in-house in December 2010. Currently we send out less than one drum per week and expect to see continued reduction to fewer than 40 drums total in 2011,” says Doherty.

“Using an electronically controlled distillation process, the ECOpure separates contaminates from the used solvent, resulting in a 95 percent recovery rate and a 90 percent reduction of disposal of toxic waste,” comments PPCTS president Richard McDonald, manufacturer of the solvent recycling machine.

These improvements have helped PSG decrease its waste hauling, as well as lower its need to purchase large amounts of press wash solvent. Environmental impacts include saved fuel associated with hauling old solvent and delivering new solvent, the elimination of properly disposing of spent solvent, as well as saving the production of new solvent.

“In addition, we save approximately $100 per drum that we do not send out. The 2010 reduction saved us close to $6,000 over the 2008 numbers. We have not purchased any new unused solvent since early December. Additionally, we are using fewer buckets, as we no longer utilize used press wash solvent more than one time. This saves not only money, but also storage cost and floor space,” says Doherty.

PSG’s new press wash solvent recycling program may also put them in better graces with the EPA. “If we continue on this path, we will be applying for Small Quantity Generator status, moving away from our Large Quantity Generator status with the local and federal regulatory bodies. This will decrease our reporting functions as well as show a working minimization program,” Doherty explains.

Plate Wash Solvent Recycling

Doherty and his team also looked into improving the company’s plate wash solvent use. “After just one use, we were replacing solvent with a recycled product and sending out dirty solvent. This created by-weekly out-of-state shipments of dirty solvent as well as the occasional need to purchase new virgin solvent.”

The PSG team determined a way around that problem. “By creating our own recycling solution, we were able to decrease our dirty solvent shipments from 27 drums in 2008 to 16 drums in 2009 and 10 drums in 2010. Less regulated waste being shipped out means a decreased shipping impact, too. Less fuel consumption, truck emissions and road wear are just a few of the overall environmental benefits,” Doherty explains.

Energy Consumption Initiatives

As with many production plants, companies are required to track and record natural gas usage. Doherty explains that the company was able to adjust usage to lower operational costs while being more earth friendly. “We utilize a pollution control device for solvent emission destruction. In compliance testing in 2007, the Illinois EPA approved a high temperature setting for this device that required a large amount of natural gas to achieve. With increased proficiency, we sought to reduce the temperature setting in order to decrease our natural gas usage.”

“In September 2010, we retested and earned the approval for this lower temperature. We are reducing the impact on our environment by decreasing our consumption of natural gas, a resource that is regulated by the Illinois EPA; as a greenhouse gas, further regulations regarding this resource may be pending,” continues Doherty.

“As a result of our decreased consumption, we have seen a 23 percent reduction in our gas bill in the forth quarter of 2010 versus the same quarter in 2009. The cost per therm is running near $0.40 and we anticipate a yearly savings of approximately $12,000. While we had to pay for the retesting of this pollution control device, we expect the return on investment to be around 18 months,” Doherty explains.

PSG has also started recycling all waste paper, plastic and aluminum cans that the office generates at a local recycling center.

Doherty also mentions that the company will be changing out all of the lights throughout the offices, plant and warehouse. “We are going to change out all of the lights – we’ll get a 2 year payback with a $30,000 investment. All of the lights will be changed out and installed in the plants and offices with automatic turn-on/-off motion sensors to save electricity and environmental impact.”

Being able to quantify your sustainable practices into true return on investment (ROI) numbers might be more attainable than you think. And with tax day upon us, that true ROI could be felt much sooner than you might expect. 

Prairie State Group’s motto is, “Shorter runs, quicker turnarounds, high-end graphics.” Sustainable practices could easily be added to that motto, too.