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Strategy goes global

Procter & Gamble has turned 50 of its facilities into zero-waste sites over the past five years and created US$1bn in value for the company. Corporate solid waste program leader Forbes McDougall explains how

Historically, manufacturing waste was often seen as the cost of doing business and managed on a site by site basis by our Health, Safety and Environmental (HS&E) team. The fragmented nature of waste management infrastructure on a global basis and our broad product portfolio meant that a simple solution for a specific waste stream identified in one country often could not be reapplied at sister facilities in another. The company relied on site level HS&E managers to identify and develop systems to maximise material recycling and minimise disposal.

Five years ago a small purchasing team started looking at reducing the total cost of waste management in a few core countries. They quickly recognised that the total spend, many millions of dollars, justified a strategic global intervention. The Global Asset Recovery Purchases (Garp) team was born.

Garp had two main goals. Firstly it was to deliver savings and revenues to our sites by helping to further optimise their waste management systems. Secondly it was to increase the beneficial reuse (P&G’s in-house term for reuse, recycling and incineration with energy recovery) of the company.

Fundamental purchasing practices were applied and delivered immediate benefits that could be seen at a site level. Technical capability and credibility within Garp helped build trust between our waste management partners and our corporate and site level HS&E teams.

The foundation of the whole process is access to detailed corporate environmental data (a global standardised system) that allows the team to identify the sites disposing of the largest tonnages of solid waste in each region. This allows us to develop a clear priority list of what wastes have to be addressed at what sites. This data is also a powerful tool for communication and motivation, as no plant manager wants their site to be known as the biggest waste producer. Sharing this type of detailed information also generates significant support for problem solving.

At our feminine hygiene product manufacturing plant in Budapest, product scrap used to be sent to landfill. Our local waste management partner, who is now our leading resource recovery partner globally, identified that this material could be sent to a nearby cement kiln and this would cost less than landfill. They then installed a shredder on our site as the product had much better burn characteristics once shredded and the cement kiln would now pay a small amount for the material. More equipment was installed so paper pulp and plastic fractions could be separated and sold directly for recycling, delivering a significant increase in revenue for the site.

The final innovation was to design and install a vacuum extraction system that collected several of the high value materials where they were generated in the manufacturing process. This reduced the need for separation and further increased the revenue from our recycled materials. Budapest became our first zero waste to landfill site in 2007.     

Leveraging technical expertise and innovative solutions proposed by our waste management partners has been the spring board for a mindset change. This has been talked about a lot but is sometimes difficult to put into practice. We now really do see all of the material we used to call “waste” as a resource. We paid for it in the first place and don’t want to pay again for its treatment or disposal. Clearly, regulated waste like asbestos must be disposed of according to appropriate local legislation. But material like shampoo wash water, for example, is simply a dilute form of our finished product and has similar cleaning properties and with the addition of a few basic chemicals can make a very effective car/truck wash. Material that was once sent for disposal is now sold as a raw material to an alternative use partner wherever possible.

In most countries there are well-defined systems for recycling materials like paper, plastic and glass, but a broad product portfolio, results in a diverse set of waste streams. Often the solutions found, move material out of conventional “waste management” infrastructure such as landfill or incineration and into reuse and recycling. If we find the solution first, then our waste management provider simply loses that material stream and we take all of the revenue. This encourages our partners to focus on our best interests - revenue generating solutions - not their best interests: feeding their infrastructure.

The Garp team has now broadened its portfolio to selling non performing inventory, such as products in Olympic branded packaging that is no longer wanted by our primary customers; raw and pack materials and equipment and parts. This holistic approach of recovering value from all of these assets has delivered significant value.

We focused on finding solutions for our toughest waste streams at our largest sites. Initially progress was slow but today, we have found ways to divert most of our major waste streams away from landfill, so we’re now seeing new sites achieve zero manufacturing waste to landfill nearly every month. Long term Procter and Gamble wants all of its 130 manufacturing sites in over 40 countries to send zero manufacturing and consumer waste to landfill.

Key steps to delivering the program:

  • Identify the opportunity by gathering the data on waste management tonnes and spend/revenue
  • Review the existing supply base and ask if it is delivering best value
  • Create a team with capacity and capability to address the opportunity
  • Brand the team and communicate their goals and results
  • Apply standard purchasing practices
  • Build technical credibility and partnerships with internal “customers” and external experts
  • Work with partners who drive innovation, who see the valuable resources in your waste 
  • Reward and recognise sites that deliver zero waste to landfill and the external suppliers that enable these achievements
  • Keep looking for additional savings opportunities and environmental benefit, never be satisfied with the first solution.


Alternative uses  

  • Waste created in the production of Gillette shaving foam in the UK is composted then used to grow turf for commercial uses
  • Scrap from the wipe manufacturing process at a US Pampers site is converted to upholstery filling
  • Paper sludge from a toilet tissue plant in Mexico is turned into low-cost roof tiles used to build homes in the local community


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