By David Krechevsky, Republican American
If your business needs wastebaskets, Paul Knickerbocker has some to spare. Knickerbocker, plant engineering and facilities manager for Siemon Co., has more than 200 plastic wastebaskets the company no longer needs stored on palettes in a warehouse near the corporate headquarters on Siemon Company Drive in Watertown.
Siemon Co., which designs and manufactures information technology network cabling systems and components, doesn’t need the baskets because its facilities here have become “zero-landfill” operations. According to the company, more than 99 percent of the waste it produces is now recycled or reused in an environmentally sustainable way.
“The 1 percent that isn’t recycled is the ash left at the waste-to-energy plant that ends up in a landfill, because nobody’s found a use for the ash yet,” Knickerbocker said Monday.
The wastebaskets were removed about a month ago, marking a milestone in Siemon’s drive to become as environmentally conscious and energy efficient as possible. The baskets were replaced by a variety of recycling receptacles, including separate bins for wastepaper, plastics and even food waste.
Plastic — including scrap from the production process and drinking bottles — joins white paper and other office waste in being recycled, while metal scrap and empty aerosol cans are sold to Albert Bros. in Waterbury. Food waste is taken to a composting farm in New Milford.
Carl Siemon, president and chief executive officer, said the company conducted meetings with all of the 350 to 400 employees on the Watertown campus to explain the changes.
“No one complained” when the wastebaskets were removed, he said. “There were questions, but no complaints.”
He said the 106-year-old company’s drive to become “green” began with his father, also named Carl, more than 50 years ago.
“My father took an interest in the environment, and that interest evolved into a passion for forestry management,” Siemon said. “He acquired 3,300 acres in a permanent conservation easement in New Hampshire.”
That land is now known as the Branch Hill Tree Farm, and is managed by Siemon’s sister, Cynthia Wyatt.
“That dedication to environmental management and responsibility kind of manifested itself in the company in a number of ways,” Siemon said.
That includes making changes large and small — such as achieving ISO 14001, an international environmental management system certification, in 1998, and later changing all the lighting in the company’s Watertown buildings to more energy-efficient bulbs.
The company also recently installed a 700-panel solar array that produces 200 kilowatts of electricity for the facility.
The array was installed with the help of a grant from the Connecticut Clean Energy Fund.
All of these changes occurred gradually, Siemon said, because “we couldn’t afford to do everything at once.”
Added Knickerbocker, “You set a goal every year and try to match it.”
Achieving zero landfill status — something no other manufacturing company in the state can claim, company officials said — also took time.
The company maintains a 95 percent recycling rate on all waste material, including manufacturing byproducts and office scrap, which resulted in more than 900 tons of waste materials being recycled in 2008. The few remaining nonrecyclable items are taken to the trash-to-energy plant, which uses such waste to produce electricity. “Since 2006, and perhaps even earlier, 97 percent to 98 percent of our waste was being repurposed,” Knickerbocker said. “To get beyond 99 percent, we looked hard at our garbage and found that with the right recycling programs, we could divert even more from the garbage waste stream.”
Siemon said the company’s bottom line benefits from these efforts, but he could not quantify the savings. The company laid off 38 employees earlier this year because the economic downturn has reduced work volume, but he said the savings realized from the zero landfill program and energy efficiency efforts could help preserve jobs.
“Customers now look for products that are considered green or more efficient, and all things being equal, they are more likely to go with suppliers who are environmentally responsible,” he said. “We do it because it’s the right thing to do, but also because our customers want us to do it.”
As for the unused wastebaskets, Knickerbocker would like them to be “repurposed” as well.
“They’re just sitting there,” he said. “I’m not sure what to do with them.”
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