Trending Content

There’s Still Worth in Your Waste

By Paul Pirkle

September 12, 2019

It is rare to go to a conference or read an industry journal and not hear the term “sustainability.” Entrepreneurs, business leaders, and their employees are seeking business practices that recover and recycle waste in a more efficient manner.

Even though the goal is to capture as much revenue as possible, the value of paper fiber and plastics has unfortunately been decreasing. Since January 2017, the Midwest price of double-lined kraft has fallen by 189%, and OCC has fallen by 267%. This is unprecedented. However, with sustainability being a key priority for the packaging industry, one’s focus must remain on positioning their business in such a way as to collect and process scrap that will maximize revenues and reduce expenses.

In a cyclical economic environment, it is more important than ever to follow the process steps that will lead to identifying where waste is generated, establishing key collection procedures, and setting goals and objectives that will continually improve the revenue contribution to your business. This should be conducted through a comprehensive audit of your scrap and waste streams.

The audit data will populate an action plan that will provide the data that your team will need to lead the change you envision and to help establish a sustainability culture. In addition, a waste audit will help determine what you are doing correctly and where there are opportunities for improvement.

Through our audit process at corrugated and converting plants, we often find valuable waste materials ending up in a dumpster. This can be attributed to inadequate processes or noncompliance by employees. Regardless, waste hauler expenses are higher than if recyclable products were diverted directly to a processor.

Moreover, companies save valuable materials from going to a landfill. Loose corrugated, pallets, metals, or plastics are examples of products that are often not recycled. As the result of recycling these products, your revenues will grow, and indirect costs will shrink.

Another byproduct of an audit is discovering that training may be necessary to bring your employees up to speed and to bring continuity throughout the company. We find that second or third shifts may not be capturing and baling material as effectively as the first shift. Communicating and training all shifts will allow your company to become a more efficient recycler and will enable a greater capture of revenue-​generating materials.

The logistics and handling of the materials must also be evaluated. The greatest value is realized when your scrap materials are baled and mill-ready. Each touch point reduces your revenue potential, so if a product must be further processed, revenue is reduced.

Likewise, you must verify the weight of product that is being shipped by scaling your outgoing waste prior to being loaded onto an outgoing trailer. Scaling and recording the weight of your bales or gaylords provides you with a manifest of materials that you can provide as proof of shipment. This will also provide you with proper accounting detail. By not putting a system in place to manage the outgoing materials into trailers or through your live loads, you may be missing opportunities and creating financial discrepancies.

Next, the proper waste-handling equipment, containers, and their positioning in the plant will enable your operations to be more efficient and effective. One must ensure that the loose materials and waste-capture processes are managed properly. A company should know how much overall waste volume they are handling so that the volume is aligned with the capacity of the current processing equipment.

At times, we find that a company needs a new baler or material separation tools. Both enhancements will allow you to increase the worth of your waste by forming tighter, grade-specific bales.

Lastly, tracking all results through reporting must also be implemented. This will ensure accurate accounting and promote one’s efforts toward continuous improvement. The tracked results can then be shared with the internal and external stakeholders in your business.

The optimization of your sustainability strategy and incorporating best practices will enhance the worth of your waste, and the ups and downs of the market will be more easily navigated. Incorporating the best practices of a waste audit is a great place to start.

To complete a waste audit survey and receive a free report on your waste stream, visit

width=120Paul Pirkle is president of Mid America Paper Recycling. He can be reached at