Furniture companies do their part

Larry Adams

To help reduce the generation of solid waste sent to landfills, two of the country’s largest furniture companies have implemented recycling programs.

The television images were vivid; the prognostications alarming. In the late 1980s, TV viewers were presented with images of garbage floating aimlessly with no where to go. So-called “experts” told how the United States was choking on its own waste and would soon run out of landfill space to put it.

The predictions of disappearing landfills has failed to materialize due in part to individual and business recycling efforts nationwide. Many woodworking companies are engaged in the practice of recycling everything from wood offal to textiles and steel wastes to help alleviate this problem.

For instance, two of the country’s largest office furniture manufacturers, Steelcase and the Knoll Group, have corporate-wide policies for reducing the amount of solid waste going to landfills.

“As part of our environmental management plan we require every facility to have a waste-reduction program,” said Lou Newett, manager of environmental/health and safety for the Knoll Group. “We look at pollution and we try to find methods at the source to eliminate pollution.”

David Rinard, director of corporate environmental quality at Steelcase of Grand Rapids, Mich., said that there are two very good reasons the country’s largest office furniture maker recycles. “First, from a pure business point of view it is the right thing to do,” Rinard said. “If you purchase and pay for something, you want to make sure you get the maximum use of those raw materials.

“Secondly, on an altruistic vein, we recognize that as one of the largest citizens in the community we have a responsibility to the people who work for us and live in the community. We have to take a share of that responsibility.”

Both companies emphasize source reduction – trying to reduce the amount of waste generated before it is actually generated. “The key first steps in our recycling program were identifying the waste stream and source reduction,” Rinard said. “We needed to find the kinds of waste going out of here and track it back to its source. We would much rather reduce waste at the source than try to find ways to recycle the waste once it is created.”

The major sources of waste for most woodworking companies are woodworking machinery operations, specifically ripsaws and panel saws. One of the most important ways these two companies, and many others in the wood products industry, reduce the amount of wasted wood material is by using optimizing software programs. These programs allow companies to get the most from wood and engineered wood panels.

Wood waste and sawdust created by machinery operations is often burned in incinerators for heat, thus keeping these materials from going to landfills. This provides a savings to the company on landfill tipping fees and offsets heating costs. Others give it away for use as animal bedding, for instance.

These two leading companies recycle more than the wood waste generated at their machinery. Recycling efforts at Knoll and Steelcase incorporate paper, aluminum cans, styrofoam, textiles and other goods.

“We are trying to recycle everything we can,” said Newett. “This year, we feel that we will be able to recycle 90 percent of the waste we generate.”

The Knoll Group, based in Grand Rapids, Mich., has six manufacturing facilities that participate in waste minimization programs. In 1994, Knoll’s East Greenville, Pa., plant was honored for its recycling efforts by the State of Pennsylvania. The plant received the Governor’s Waste Minimization Award in part for its efforts to reduce emissions of volatile organic compounds, its recycling programs and other environmental stewardship programs.

Recycling efforts at Knoll include:

* In 1994, Knoll’s East Greenwood plant recycled 100 percent of its paper (46 tons), corrugated board (327 tons), steel (115 tons), and wood bolsters (89 tons).

* Incineration programs at Knoll’s East Greenwood and Toronto plants collectively burn as much as 30 tons of wood waste a day – wood waste that would most likely have gone to a landfill.

* Wood scraps are given to local cabinet makers.

* Textile waste from upholstery operations are recycled.

Steelcase recycling highlights

At Steelcase, one of the largest waste streams is steel which is created when the company stamps out metal parts and holes. The waste steel is gathered and shipped off to mills where it is remanufactured into new steel for use. This saves approximately 15 tons of steel from going to the landfill on an annual basis, Rinard said.

Steelcase also sells textile waste from its upholstery operations back to its suppliers. “It is turned into material that in some cases we purchase back as a sound deadening material.”

Wood waste is also burned as fuel in some Steelcase facilities. The company is experimenting with a program to convert wood waste into composting.

Additionally, Steelcase has employee recycling collection centers. Paper, bottles and aluminum cans are collected. In the lunch room, styrofoam trays and plastic cups are separated and shipped off to recycling facilities. Aluminum cans are collected and turned over to the Toys for Tots charity, which uses the proceeds to buy Christmas presents for underprivileged children.

And while the two companies earn some money by selling recyclable materials back to their suppliers or save on heating costs by burning wood dust for heat, these earnings are not the primary motivation for recycling.

Newett said, “It would be cheaper in some cases to landfill some items, but it is our philosophy to recycle and we will go ahead and do so. We try to practice what we preach.”

COPYRIGHT 1996 Vance Publishing Corp.

COPYRIGHT 2008 Gale, Cengage Learning

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