Focusing on “cradle-to-cradle solutions” rather than “cradle-to-grave waste management.”
That’s the underlying theme of an EPA initiative developed with surface finishers and chemical suppliers in mind. Via the National Partnership for Environmental Priorities (NPEP), the EPA is promoting a voluntary recognition program that fosters collaboration with industry for the purpose of reducing the use and/or release of highly toxic chemicals. Specifically, NPEP encourages conservation of resources and better ways to substitute, reduce, reuse, or recycle chemicals.
Olof Hansen, of the U.S. EPA, Pacific Southwest Region, provides an overview of how NPEP is designed to work: Partners (i.e., finishers, in this case) enrolled in this program select one item in a set of “priority” chemicals1 targeted for reduction as well as establish a strategy for accomplishing that reduction. The next step entails estimating an overall reduction goal (in pounds) and setting a specific target date for completion (usually one year). According to Hansen, EPA’s national objective is to work with industry to reduce the presence of these priority chemicals by 4 million pounds by the end of 2011.
The purported benefits of the NPEP program extend beyond the obvious environmental considerations. According to Hansen, there’s also an economical upside. Namely, the cost savings associated with pollution prevention efforts: reduction of waste hauling fees; lower raw materials/feedstock purchases; decreases in utility bills; and fewer administrative/regulatory fees.
Additionally, Hansen noted, being recognized as a sustainable business allows partners to receive both the official NPEP enrollment plaque as well as the resultant achievement awards. Many of the program's past and current participants, he said, have parlayed their successes into “goodwill” initiatives for shareholders via highly publicized articles and press releases/events.
At present, 281 partners are enrolled nationwide in the NPEP program, according to Hansen. Among them are large and small companies, including: DuPont, Northrop Grumman, 3M, Exide, LAX, the U.S Postal Service, Coatek, and Valley Chrome Plating. Although their respective areas of specialty may vary widely, their environmental goals and objectives run parallel.
Following are a few highlights and brief case histories:
Exide Technologies. Operating in more than 80 countries and generating fiscal 2010 net sales of approximately $2.7 billion, Exide Technologies is one of the world's largest producers, distributors and recyclers of lead-acid batteries. The company's four global business divisions – Industrial Energy Americas, Industrial Energy Europe, Transportation Americas, and Transportation Europe – provide a comprehensive range of stored electrical energy products and services for industrial and transportation applications. In addition, Exide’s Asia Pacific/ Rest of World operations contribute sizeable revenues to the company, divided evenly between the Industrial Energy and Transportation products and services sectors.
At its battery recycling facility in Vernon, Calif., Exide Technologies reduced more than 200,000 lbs of lead from its blast furnace slag while simultaneously boosting production 34%. What’s more, the company improved its recycling rate by 27%, resulting in annual savings of $350,000.
Northrop Grumman Space Technology. Designs and manufactures spacecraft systems and sub-systems, electronic systems, space science instruments, environmental monitoring space systems, advanced avionics systems, and high energy laser systems. The company also develops defense missiles, satellites, and antennas.
Northrop Grumman Space Technology successfully eliminated trichlorobenzene at its Redondo Beach, Calif., micro-electronics plant by more than 11,000 lbs—all without sacrificing product quality.
Valley Chrome Plating. This Clovis, Calif.-based captive finishing facility specializes in trivalent-chromium-plated truck bumpers and accessories.2 Valley Chrome Plating replaced the lead anodes with graphite anodes, eliminating the associated waste stream in the process. The company also implemented ion exchange waste reduction systems through its manufacturing and finishing operations. The end result was the elimination 6,000 lbs of hexavalent chromium and a much safer environment for its employees.
Valley Chrome Plating’s environmental initiatives required initial upfront investments (some very significant) but panned out over the long haul in the form of annual savings. For instance, an initial financial commitment of $2,000 was required to replace 40 lead anodes. However, this expense was recouped in less than a year. Similarly, the replacement cost for a complete changeover to graphite anodes represented $6,000 in savings.
The switch from hexavalent chromium to trivalent chromium entailed a much bigger initial outlay: $150,000, to be exact. The impending environmental rules (at the time) for chromium created the prospect of an expenditure of $100,000 to install a chrome fume scrubber. When looking at this expenditure, Valley Chrome Plating decided to do what was best for the environment and its business over the long haul. During this transition, Valley Chrome Plating saw an opportunity to upgrade its plating tanks and equipment. The combined actions eliminated the chrome waste stream, reduced waste treatment costs, as well as post plating and energy outlays. More importantly, the elimination of all the hexavalent chromium enabled the company to avoid any associated environmental and health concerns, placing it in a more competitive position within the industry.
“Changing the way a company manufactures its products doesn’t come quick or easy, yet Valley Chrome Plating set out to voluntarily make these changes to protect its employees and the environment,” said Jeff Scott, waste management director for the EPA’s Pacific Southwest region. “Valley Chrome Plating is providing a great example of how a company can protect both the environment and still make a positive impact on the bottom line.”
For more information on EPA’s NPEP program, please visit the EPA online.
- Priority chemicals include: persistent, bio-accumulating materials such as lead, mercury, solves, PCBs, and dioxin.
- “Valley Chrome Plating’s Journey to Zero Discharge,” Metal Finishing, Nov./Dec. 2010, p 17.