Got Leftovers?

Sept. 15, 2002

Zero waste is the reality in my household, at least when it comes to leftovers. Thanks to a certain family member ," I'll call him "hungry-hungry hubby" to protect his identity ," no doggie bag goes untouched. No morsel remains.

Wouldn't it be nice if your plant had its own "hungry-hungry hubby" to devour its leftovers?

Maybe it does.

"One company's waste is another company's feedstock," contends Andrew Mangan, acting executive director of the Business Council for Sustainable Development (BCSD) (

At a recent BCSD workshop, Mangan introduced attendees to the concept of By-Product Synergy (BPS), which he describes as "modern day alchemy," or "making the most efficient use of what you've got." The BPS model creates value for companies by matching producers of under-valued waste streams with users of those streams. Although the concept is not new ," the use of power plant fly ash as an additive in cement and concrete comes to mind ," it has yet to enjoy widespread use.

BPS provides a practical means to pursue sustainable development initiatives, says Mangan, as well as to slash disposal and feedstock costs. "What we're talking about is bringing groups of companies together, 15 to 20 in a region, and getting them to realize what each has," he says.

Key factors to successful BPS project implementation include the selection of a diverse group of companies, which increases the potential for finding synergies; open communication of synergy ideas; and partnerships with technical consultants and regulatory agencies.

In 1997, representing BCSD, Mangan brought together 20 companies in Tampico, Mexico ," many of them chemical and petrochemical firms. With his assistance, the companies identified 68 synergies and 29 commercial opportunities. Ultimately, they opted to pursue 13 projects, with reused waste-stream materials ranging from acetonitrile to hydrochloric acid to fiberglass.

The Mexico project was a smashing success, and Mangan since has helped to organize similar projects in other regions. In working with companies, he talks in terms of 100 percent product instead of zero waste ," emphasizing the business advantages of the process.

Despite its potential benefits, however, the BPS concept can be a tough sell. Competitive and confidentiality issues can cripple synergy discussions, says Mangan, and environmental laws often favor disposal over reuse. If BPS is to become a widespread reality, he says, industry must make reuse a priority, and state and federal agencies must increase recognition and support of industry efforts.

In a BPS project now underway in New Jersey, says Mangan, the New Jersey Department of Environmental Protection, the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), private sector leadership and others have partnered to eliminate some of the barriers to reuse. The project showcases BPS as a viable alternative to certain EPA regulatory programs ," one that treats reused industrial byproducts as feedstocks instead of wastes.

Could a neighboring facility use your plant's "leftovers"? Could your plant profit from another's discards? Maybe it's time to talk. CP

Kathie Canning

Executive Managing Editor

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