From the ground up

Features - Public-Private Partnerships

The Carlex aftermarket distribution center in Lebanon, Tennessee, created a team through a private-public partnership to divert its waste from landfill.

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August 3, 2017
Emily Laffey
Wood waste from Carlex is gasified into energy at the Lebanon, wastewater treatment plant, pictured.

The Carlex aftermarket distribution center in Lebanon, Tennessee, appears to be just like any other large storage and logistics building, but what happened there in 2016 is anything but business as usual. Its Manager Lynda Hogue often finds herself walking the line between job responsibilities and environmental sustainability.

Hogue has an extensive background and a deep passion for her career in supply chain management and logistics. “I love what I do,” she says. “Supply chain is a job where every day is different. It is challenging and it is fun. I can pick what’s remarkably important to me and integrate it into the job,” Hogue adds.

She is no stranger to positive innovation. Hogue’s journey starts in California, where she worked for Sola Optical in Petaluma for 16 years. In the early 1980s, during the total quality management (TQM) movement, Hogue oversaw designing and employing a preferred supplier program for the company.

She explains that growing up in California, one naturally thinks of the environment and the surroundings, whether at home or in the office. Hogue brings her passion about her job and the environment while introducing sustainability and corporate social responsibility into the Carlex culture.

“I think we all have a responsibility to ourselves to care. It’s something that is truly important,” she says. “We can all take action and contribute something. When you work together, it’s truly not that hard to make a difference.”

STEERING IN A NEW DIRECTION

Carlex specializes in automotive replacement glass and produces original equipment glass, such as laminated windshields and performance backlights.

A product like automotive glass, however, requires special packaging during storage and transport. Until 2016, the thousands of custom wooden crates were used once before heading to the landfill. When facilitating production and logistic activities, waste streams always pose a challenge.

Carlex’s array of products intensifies this issue. The plant generates a multitude of crates, cardboard, wood pallets, racks, packaging materials and more from the manufacturing and distribution processes. In addition, millions of pieces of glass per day are transported and distributed.

In 2015, the company’s disposal system included two compactors and three 40-yard debris bins, one of which was designated to recyclables. More than 515 tons of material were sent to the landfill, despite the fact that more than 80 percent of discarded materials were recyclable.

When approached about the issue, the former vendor showed no interest in seeking more ecofriendly solutions. Hogue knew Carlex wasn’t using sustainable disposal practices effectively, and it became a top priority of hers to reduce this waste deficit through an alternative method.

As she began the search for the most sustainable waste options for the company, the city of Lebanon was taking its first steps in the direction of a zero waste goal. The timing was optimal—Lebanon’s waste gasification facility was nearing completion and was going to need a lot of feedstock.

This downdraft gasification plant, designed and built by Aries Clean Energy (formerly PHG Energy), Nashville, Tennessee, would convert waste wood, tires and sewer sludge into a synthetic gas that would generate electricity for the city’s wastewater treatment plant.

The plant is projected to divert more than 8,000 tons of waste from the landfill annually. At full capacity, it will use 64 tons of feedstock per day.

Hogue quickly zeroed in on finding a way to divert her company’s wood waste to that plant.

PARTNERSHIPS PAVE THE WAY

Lebanon-based Rockwood Recycling has played a key role in the city’s gasification plant all the way back to its initial ground breaking. In 2014, a massive hailstorm hit the city, resulting in a 50,000-pound pile of roofing shingles. The company at the time was operating under the name of Ground Up Recycling and focused on shingles recycling. This caught the Lebanon mayor’s attention.

“The mayor witnessed how we utilized sustainable solutions to turn a problem into a good thing, and in return then asked for our insight on the gasification plant, which we viewed as an extremely beneficial opportunity,” Lincoln Young, president of Rockwood Recycling, says.

A critical element of the creation of this public-private partnership with the city is that Rockwood assumes all responsibility for collecting, transporting and preparing feedstock for the plant. It also receives discarded tires from Wilson County officials. This allows the county county to cut hauling costs.

From a nearby collection yard, Rockwood stores and delivers shipped wood and tires for the plant’s fuel.

Hogue wasted no time in contacting Young about her wood waste in the parking lot. Their collaboration switched the entire dynamic of Carlex’s waste minimization efforts.

Now 95 percent of Carlex’s discarded remains are recycled. In return for Carlex’s large involvement, Rockwood grants it a discount on cardboard disposal. The partnership allows 53-foot trailers to be transported from Carlex to the Rockwood facility, where Rockwood sorts and recycles the material streams.

Currently, Carlex has been shipping approximately two trailers of recyclables per day but it had expected to ship three to four trailers per day during its busy summer season. Keeping with the best interest of the community of Lebanon, Hogue uses the city of Lebanon’s shuttle drivers to deliver the trailers during idle time. This eliminates another vendor.

The graphic on page 37 show the results after less than half a year working with Rockwood.

CONNECTING THE DOTS

When Hogue began at Carlex, she had no sustainability plan. Hogue developed a goal for the company and presented it to her supervisors.

She says her five executive leaders were reluctant to change, and this was one of the largest challenges Hogue faced in integrating an energy initiative into the plan.

“Change is hard; change is hard for everyone,” she says. “You have to make it something that matters to them.”

It is hard to not notice, however, when a location goes from hundreds of tons to the landfill to less than 50 tons of waste to the same landfill in a year’s time.

Carlex executives recently visited the distribution center, Rockwood and the gasification plant.

Hogue and her team have become a model for other Carlex locations.

Working with Rockwood results in new benefits, especially pertaining to the overall quality of living within the community. More than half the Carlex team live in Wilson County, where nearby landfills are quickly filling. By participating in a public-private partnership with the city, the company disperses money right back into Wilson County’s economy, alluding again to the circular economy concept.

By educating the team and connecting the value of the plan to the individuals, Hogue’s concept was embraced by co-workers and the union, setting a shared pride in the level of Carlex’s corporate social responsibility and raising the bar for the company’s culture.

Emily Laffey is a Middle Tennessee State University intern for Aries Clean Energy, Nashville, Tennessee.