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Trash 2.0? Nike, Carnival cruises and wading through waste data

Data and garbage go together.

"Really?" you might ask, picturing peach juice or butter smearing over a computer screen.

But given that waste is often about volume, chemical and material characteristics, and the dollar cost of moving it — or the dollar savings if waste isn't generated in the first place — managing trash is about numbers and data.

As corporations try to reduce waste or pursue zero waste goals, gathering and analyzing data is essential to the process, according to Herman Hsuan, global consulting manager of Waste Management Inc., who advised listeners on a GreenBiz Group webcast this week.

“Data management," he said, allows you to "leave behind ambiguity with respect to waste.”  

The adage "you can’t manage what you don’t measure" comes into play when making decisions about reusing or sorting, collecting, hauling, compacting various kinds of waste and recycling streams. Data also influences decisions about product design, planning employee incentives to reduce waste and even R&D investment in potential reuse of a waste byproduct.

Goals are more meaningful when developed using accurate intelligence and are clearly defined both internally and externally to get the results you desire.

There are pretty good business cases for zero waste, but "Ambiguity arises when decision are made without understanding the whole picture or when the path to success” is opaque, he said. 

Therefore Waste Management has invested in intelligent software and analytics geared for custom data management. In fact, Enevo Inc. is likely the leader in software logistics for waste. But Hsuan shared a conversation with a few customers of its waste management data solutions who have ambitious waste reduction goals.

"Goals are more meaningful when developed using accurate intelligence and are clearly defined both internally and externally to get the results you desire,” Hsuan said.

That is what Nike found as it pursues its goal of zero waste. It has used software provided by Enevo and a data intelligence tool from Waste Management to track waste volumes, sorting and collection, down to details of how full each dumpster was before it was serviced, and which day of the week and what time of day dumpsters were the most full.

"We piloted technology using Enevo dumpster monitoring, to make sure a dumpster was actually full before its service schedule," Orphanides began. The data from the Enevo monitoring sensor was put into the Waste Management Business Intelligence tool. 

The trending data showed a troubling fact: Dumpsters were generally not more than half full before being serviced for collection.

Considering the size of its sprawling headquarters campus in Oregon with its 10,000 employees and many buildings, cafeterias, fitness centers and labs, hauling from half full dumpsters was a costly inefficiency. Nike decided to replace many dumpsters with compactors, and then consolidated the contents of compactors into fewer dumpsters before scheduled pickup from recyclers and trash collectors. 

"The key is when you have the data and use the data to measure, it points to an opportunity," Orphanides said. Nike pursued its compacting strategy.

"Reduce, reuse, recycle mentality" is Nike's mantra regarding waste. Through data the company can amplify opportunities for using less stuff, such as "What we're doing in smart procurement practices so we don't have to handle waste and (helps us) think about ways we can reuse materials," he said.

Carnival and its 4 million vacationing consumers

Carnival Cruise Lines is also aggressively pursuing waste reduction. But its huge operation of moving parts requires sustainability managers to look at a lot of information and deal with lots of recycling vendors. Cruise operates a fleet of 24 cruise ships who travel to over 100 ports in North America, the Caribbean and Australia, ferrying about 4 million passengers a year. Waste generated on a ship includes food waste, meal servicing waste, cardboard containers, cleaning waste, engine waste. It recycles 5 tons of waste a year. But its biggest category is cardboard.

Sarah Dayboll, sustainability manager for Carnival Cruise Lines, said data analysis brings out the more subtle opportunities in dealing with all these streams, such as that if it uses sideways-loading trucks to haul off recyclables and wastes, it will better understand the types of waste it has and opportunities for reduction.

"When debarking and bringing new material on board, you can imagine the amount of cardboard coming on," she said. Carnival uses rolling carts of cardboard recycling bins segregated by type, such as clean cardboard vs. cardboard contaminated by food waste.

"Because we generate so much cardboard, it is really important for us to generate data" so the company can recycle it appropriately. For instance, any cardboard that has been touched by animal waste from food, as in cardboard that held meat or eggs, by law must go into its own bio-hazardous waste recycling.

To assist with offloading all that cardboard, it first looked at data and then employed what Waste Management calls Live Load containers, or trucking trailers with sides wide open for easier categorization of waste as well as visual understanding and management of waste content.

"Trailers with the side opening allow more accurate picture of our waste, because we're not loading into open top containers where we can't see the waste," Dayboll said.

The business case for pursuing zero waste — or at least an aggressive reduction of waste — is reducing cost, Dayboll said.

"We are feeding thousands of people a day and we do have a lot of waste," she said. "We know that whatever goes on board is going to circle back and become a waste that needs to come off the ship, so we are forever trying to reduce some of those challenging waste streams." Data management systems help this process, highlighting potential efficiencies.

For Nike, the business case is again the scale of operations and thus the potential scale of savings. 

"We are like a college campus," with many buildings, some 10,000 employees, offices, fitness centers, cafeterias, labs, etc. "You start with a waste audit and for a complex like this you look at what are the waste generators." Then opportunities show themselves.

"Issues like, if you are serving food to 10,000 people." A cafeteria might be using disposable plates and cutlery. "But when serving that number day after day, you can make a business case for serving with reusable items," such as ceramic cups and plates. That might require installing industrial dishwashers, "but if you think about the operating expenses of supplying that material in the front end, wouldn't you rather have that spent on far more durable things?" Cost savings can be realized, he said.

Hsuan recommended four levers to help eliminate data ambiguity while striving for zero waste:

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