By maximizing recycling through waste audits, setting up a recycling protocol at manufacturing plants and implementing paperless procedures, beverage manufacturer Sunny Delights has achieved zero waste to landfill — way before other companies.

Is striving to get to zero waste, where your company (or even you as an individual) sends no trash to landfills — really, literally none — possible?

It's difficult but it is, even for a mid-sized company, possible. Witness Sunny Delight Beverages Co., a $532 million Cincinatti-based manufacturer.

In its 2010 sustainability report (pdf) chief sustainability officer Ellen Iobst writes, “This year, SDBC achieved an outstanding accomplishment by reaching its zero waste to landfill goal at all manufacturing sites three years ahead of schedule.” Iobst continues:

Our dedicated employees at each plant site worked diligently to divert all generated waste away from landfills and into recycling waste streams. They sent their last load of waste to the landfill in April 2010 and they continue to create new waste recycling opportunities. Sunny Delight is among the first in its industry to accomplish this zero waste to landfill feat.

. . . This zero waste goal was achieved by maximizing recycling through waste audits, researching recycling facilities and setting up a recycling protocol at each facility. Great effort also was taken to reduce office supplies by implementing paperless procedures and by reusing a variety of storage containers on-site.

. . . Achieving and maintaining zero waste to landfills is not an easy accomplishment. Creating new waste streams is challenging. For example, the concrete scrap resulting from a plant’s construction project had no known reuse purpose. However, the site’s sustainability team worked to find a recycler who would take it. Diligence and creative thinking by our employees drove our outstanding zero waste result.

Waste Management World reported that “these goals were hit through a combination of measures. For example in a move towards a paperless workplace, vendors must now submit their invoices electronically. This has had the knock-on benefit of speeding the review and approval of documents, and reducing paper and storage costs. Expense reports are also only accepted electronically now.”

Waste Management also reported that in 2007, 36% of Sunny Delight’s waste was landfilled — 1,140 tons out of 3,166 tons — and that by 2009, that percentage had dropped to less that 10%. In 2010, it hit zero.

As well, the “initiatives have delivered an impressive $2.44 million saving in two years,” wrote Waste Management.

Worth noting, however, is that, as put it a year ago, “while green in production, the beverage itself remains a sugary mess.” Nutritional information posted at the Sunny D website shows that its original style beverage is made of water, high fructose corn syrup, and just 5% fruit juice.

Company’s president and CEO Billy Cyr addressed the beverage content explicitly in the recent report.

“We reduced the average caloric content of a serving of our beverages from 92 in 2007 to 72.2 in 2009 and are now down to 57.6 in 2010,” Cyr wrote. “We are more confident than ever that we will be able to achieve our goal of 50 calories per serving (a 46% reduction verses 2007) by 2011. That is a major contribution to America’s anti-obesity campaign—something we are committed to.”

Because of the company’s zero-waste efforts, CSO Iobst was named to the 2010 most influential people in business ethics list put out by Ethisphere, a research company and think tank.

Other companies pursuing zero-waste policies include General Motors (Mike Robinson, GM’s VP Environment, Energy and Safety Policy, was also named to the Ethisphere list after 62 GM plants became zero waste, wrote Ethisphere), carpet company Interface (see our profile, Nike and Wal-Mart (see our mini case studies on both).

2 Comments On: How Sunny Delight Hit Zero Waste

  • Georjean Adams | July 14, 2011

    Other than doing away with paper invoices, it sounds like the focus was on recycling waste rather than reducing the production of waste in the first place. Is this a case of low hanging fruit vs the tough work of process redesign? Georjean Adams

  • RC Thompson | July 21, 2011

    Even if you come up a little short of the goal, no trash what-so-ever, then that will be a huge improvement from where you started. This is a great challenge-I could see a ‘cult’ like movement getting behind this!

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