Creating a Waste Minimization Plan and How to Be Successful in an EHS Role.
Interview with Wade Spurlin, Environmental Coordinator at Romeo RIM
Wade Spurlin is the Environmental Coordinator at Romeo RIM, a Michigan-based manufacturing company that specializes in reactive injection molding.
Wade earned his law degree at Michigan State University and has a background in legal, manufacturing, and environmental compliance.
Wade initially provided consulting services at Romeo RIM and joined the team full time in 2014.
He is responsible for environmental programs that assure compliance for Title V, RCRA, Storm water, and environmental permits, as well as the ISO 14001 environmental management system.
Q: Tell me about your waste minimization plans at Romeo RIM.
We track three hazardous waste streams and six non-hazardous streams. We have unique waste challenges at Romeo RIM because the parts we make can generate various amounts of scrap polyurethane that cannot be re-ground, and I am determined to find a way to reduce that waste volume.
That being said, we have many strategies to reduce solid and hazardous waste at our facility – recovering purge solvents and using reusable rags and oil absorbents, to name a few.
Q: Walk me through step-by-step how someone could get started with a waste minimization plan.
- Start off with listing all of the things that leave your doors as waste, whether they go to a dumpster heading to a landfill or to a recycling center. Inventory everything. Since some of your waste is manifested, you may have a good idea of what’s already in your hazardous and non-hazardous waste. Don’t be afraid to look in the general waste dumpster, too.
- Create categories and lists.
- Track the waste back to where it came from and ask questions. For example, are you seeing disposable gloves in the trash? Do you need it? Can it be replaced with reusable materials?
- Work with suppliers to make changes. For example, can a supplier change their packaging? Do this for each item in each category. Start with low hanging fruit for easy wins.
- Set your team up for success. A good plan will often incorporate work groups, and tie waste minimization goals into profit sharing and bonuses, as well as the environmental aspects.
- Set goals and track your success. For example, we track all of our waste generation and costs as part of our overall companywide metric system.
- Publicize your accomplishments. For example, we put messages on the TV screen in our break rooms. Make the connection for employees that waste reduction = cost savings. I also attend town hall meetings. At this upcoming meeting, I will be talking about how we reduced a waste stream with SorbIts® reusable oil absorbents and shop towels.
- Re-evaluate the program and continually improve
Q: How do you get employee buy-in for your environmental initiatives?
Most folks want to be good environmental stewards.
Our facility is on a 26-acre rural site where nature is all around us – turkey crossings, deer, ponds, etc. so it is easy to see how our activities impact our environment. Most of our employees have a natural appreciation for the environment because it’s right at our back door.
We also tie it to dollars. Waste = Money. Non-Compliance = Money. Safety = Money. Making the connection to cost savings always seems to resonate with people.
Q: What are your greatest accomplishments on the job?
We recently streamlined and incorporated our material tracking into our enterprise resource planning (ERP) system for better transparency and ease of tracking. Prior to this update, our material usage tracking for environmental reporting was done separately from our corporate enterprise system.
By working with our material management team, I was able to access the usage data that I required from data being tracked for other purposes.
Now, by simply exporting usage data from our ERP system, we avoid duplication of effort, which in and of itself is waste.
In addition, I’m especially proud that we have achieved waste reduction of 25% across the board (hazardous and non-hazardous). We’ve also achieved oily debris reduction of 50% by switching from disposable rags and “diapers” to reusable shop towels and absorbents with help from ITU AbsorbTech.
Q: What advice would you give to an EHS grad just starting out in their career?
Don’t go in with a pre-conceived notion of what “manufacturing” people and facilities are like. The truth is, no two manufacturing facilities are alike.
Sometimes young people coming out of college have only been exposed to the really high-tech facilities and seem surprised that all manufacturing plants are not immaculate. There is the high-tech side, such as microchip manufacturing, but also the heavy manufacturing side as well and lots of opportunities in both.
Q: Trends in EHS
I believe that environmental standards, such as ISO 14001, will have a similar effect on the manufacturing world as quality standards have had and will help environmental issues become a valuable part of the conversation throughout the planning and manufacturing process.
Environmental matters will be considered up and down the supply chain.
It’s clear after our discussion that Wade has a passion for his job and the environment – and he’s very good at what he does. Thank you, Wade, for sharing your time and expert advice.