TodayApril 17, 2022

Subaru – zero landfill

Subaru Zero-landfill

One of the first words I heard when I reached the Subaru Indiana Automotive plant was kaizen. What does Kaizen mean? It means an improvement in a company, real improvement, and innovative management practices. How has Subaru improved its automotive plant?

You know that can of garbage in front of your yard every week. The one the garbage man takes to a landfill every week? That garbage can full of trash is more garbage than Subaru sends to a landfill every year.

Subaru calls it Corporate Social Responsibility, but it goes beyond anything any other auto manufacturer has accomplished. In 2002, over 800 acres of SIA property was designated a National Wildlife Federation Backyard Wildlife Habitat, a first bestowed upon an automotive manufacturing site. In 2002, SIA received the International Organization for Standardization (ISO) 14001 Recertification, the cornerstone of the environmental management awards, recognizable worldwide. Subarus marketing campaign has been Think, Feel, Drive, but inside Subaru of Indiana Automotive (SIA), their campaign is Reduce, Reuse, Recycle.

Denise Coogan, Manager, Safety & Environmental Compliance, Subaru of Indiana Automotive (SIA), took us through some of the reduction projects that include a 79 percent reduction in solvents, a 61 percent reduction in sludge and a 6,000-gallon annual reduction in oil. These numbers allow Subaru to reduce Toxics Release Inventory (TRI) by 40 percent. The reuse projects are just as impressive; the 33,000 brass lug nuts that Subaru used to throw away now go back to the manufacturer and Subaru gets a small discount because of it. The extra paint that is sprayed when the car is getting painted is skimmed off the tub of water and parking lot stoppers and railroad ties are produced. 35,597 gallons of solvent is reused annually, along with 34 million pounds of packaging material. Solvent recovery system and sludge dryer were the most capital intensive, taking about 7-10 years to recover the expense.

All of this has helped Subaru achieve a 99 percent recycling rate. Its simple things, such as chipping up 378,000 pounds of wood pallets and used them around the almost 35,000 trees that are on the plant grounds. Allegiant Global Services, helped Subaru achieve zero percent landfill in less than two years. In a plant tour, Terry Jacot from Allegiant showed us the styrofoam pieces that are marked and crated to be sent back to Japan. They mark the pieces and try to get five trips out of each piece. The oil caps that are in the oil plugs are pulled out and sent back. Each piece of refuse is looked at and decided if it will be used in its original form or a secondary form, such as tires being grated up and used in children’s playgrounds. On Allegiant’s website they say, “At the beginning of our program, this manufacturer shipped 23 compacted loads of refuse to the landfill each month, today they ship 2 compacted loads of refuse to a mass-burn, energy cogeneration facility.”Even with all the reducing, reusing and recycling, there is a small amount of leftover waste. Subaru could take that to the landfill and still have hero status, but they don’t. At a cost to Subaru, they take the waste to Covanta Energy, where Covanta extracts the BTU waste to energy. That’s right; Subaru pays Covanta to create electricity for the city of Indianapolis.

According to Bernie Heile, Director, Sales, and Marketing Covanta Secure Services, “Covanta is a waste to energy facility based in Indianapolis. We extract the BTU out of the waste. The waste creates steam, which is turned into electricity. I understand that the average per capita expenditures for the electricity is measurably lower than cities that don’t do this.” According to Coogan, “We send about 3 percent of all our material to Covanta. It is a lot cheaper to send it to a landfill than to pay Covanta to take it, so we pull as many recyclables out of the waste stream as we can.”

Derrick Porter, Director of Corporate Communications, Covanta Energy, explains that “there are large boilers with a special grate system. Subaru’s waste goes into the waste to energy (WTE) mixed with household items. This not only reduces landfill but reduces greenhouse gas (GHG), such as methane. This is Europe and Japan’s disposal method of choice. Some European countries (members of the EU-15) have banned landfilling of raw or biogenic (biodegradable) waste because they generate harmful greenhouse gases (methane) when putting in a landfill. In fact, the ash residue from the burning is also used in those countries as aggregate for concrete or roadways, avoiding additional landfill space.”Porter goes on to point out, “The results are that WTE/Covanta provides clean renewable alternative energy that is available continuously. Unlike other renewable energy such as wind power (which may only be available 20-30% of the time), our facilities run 24hrs a day for every day of the year. They can operate as “baseload” energy similar to a coal-fired plant, however, without the greenhouse gas emissions of a coal plant (and the avoided methane emissions from a landfill). Covanta processes approximately 5% of the county’s waste (15 million tons) and produces a little less than 10% of the country’s renewable energy. In fact, EPA concluded in 2003 that WTE produces electricity with less environmental impact than almost any other source of electricity.”

According to Tom Easterday, Senior Vice President, SIA, has looked at the solar wind for electricity and they have worked with the EPAs energy star program. Fuji Heavy Industries, SIAs parent company, has a division that specializes in wind power generation and SIA is looking at using that. SIA would have to get permits, but the more important aspect of the wind generation is making sure it fits with their natural wildlife habitat.”

Toyota will begin building their Camrys in the SIA plant in 2007, building up to 100,000 when at capacity. The discussions, according to Easterday, have already been had, not only with Toyota but with their suppliers. Toyota is already environmentally conscious, but they will learn more from Subaru.

Kaizen, desu ne.

Lou Ann Hammond

Lou Ann Hammond is the CEO of Carlist and Driving the Nation. She is the co-host of Real Wheels Washington Post carchat every Friday morning and is the Automotive, energy correspondent for The John Batchelor Show and a Contributor to Automotive Electronics magazine headquartered in Korea. Hammond is a founding member of the Women's World Car of the Year #WWCOTY, and board member of the Women in Automotive.

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