A Ripe Idea

In 1990, a recycling program planted in Mesquite, Texas began to grow green. Tyco Electronics Power Systems Inc., formerly known as the headquarters of Lucent Technologies Inc. Power Systems, has successfully factored environmental and social concern into business and economic decisions. The facility has decreased the amount of non-hazardous waste sent to landfills by 97 percent - while it has increased manufacturing output over the last two fiscal years by 50 percent. The effects have branched out into the surrounding community, bringing less pollution and more knowledge to its members.

Last November, Lucent Technologies Inc. sold its Power Systems business to Tyco International Ltd., a worldwide supplier of power systems, or equipment that powers telephone networks and computers. Lucent noted that, as the company focuses on the broadband and mobile Internet markets, the Power Systems business will be best positioned in a company serving the electronics and power industries.

Lucent Technologies Inc., Power Systems maintained a solid environmental compliance record, a commitment to environmental excellence and community involvement, was ISO 14001 certified and had an environmental management system (EMS) in place. Additionally, the existing programs at the plant have pollution prevention goals built into program objectives. What role will Lucent's past recycling history play on Tyco's future?

"Our programs aren't going to stop because we've had such good environmental success and we are very well respected. We aren't going to let our program slip - we are going to keep the pace and we're going to pick it up. This is just a change in ownership, it's not a change in attitude," said Chad Vadnais, MS, Environmental Health and Safety Engineer at Tyco.

Money Matters

Making equipment that powers the communications network can get very dirty, leaving behind mounds of plastic, paper, hazardous waste and much more. However, Tyco Electronics has met this challenge by cleaning up - and cashing out.

As a result of innovative recycling efforts, revenue abounds. In 1999, the facility saved $170,000 by not paying for landfill use, while nearly a $14,000 profit was gained from the sales of recyclable material.

The phrase 'Reduce, reuse, recycle' takes on significant meaning to the employees at the facility. From maintenance to management, keeping waste out of landfills is a priority for everyone. New, creative environmental programs are not only good for the environment, but are great for business. The more that is recycled, the more money that is made or saved.

Materials collected and recycled by individual teams at separate stations within the facility include cardboard, paper, aluminum cans, plastics such as polyethylene and bubble wrap, batteries, wood pallets, packing material such as styrofoam, as well as fluorescent lights, used prescription glasses and ink jet cartridges.

With dedicated teamwork and new technology, Tyco Electronics has implemented several innovative energy and waste saving projects. The facility provides ongoing education and instruction for employees on recycling, environmental health and safety (EH&S) issues and current updates on recycling issues and projects. Over 150 green-thumbed employees volunteer their time to take part in Planet Protector and monthly Watt Watcher green meetings where they brainstorm ways to conserve energy and reduce or minimize waste and discuss current environmental issues.

Since the beginning of the recycling programs - more than 10 years ago - there has been a complete elimination of process wastewater from the facility, a 90 percent reduction in hazardous waste, a 100 percent elimination of toxic air emissions and a 69 percent decrease in volatile organic compounds.

Save Watt?

The Watt-Watchers group of employees has replaced production lines with machines that use less energy and produce less waste, started a hazardous waste recovery and reuse project and are planning to replace large boilers with more efficient units. Light bulbs are continuously replaced with more energy-efficient ones, and motion detectors are installed in rooms to turn off lights when there is no movement.

The Planet Protectors recycling reaches out to the community with environmental cleanups, displays open to the public and school programs. Items that are no longer needed by Tyco are donated to organizations that promote environmental education.

Partnerships with small businesses have allowed Tyco to donate reusable material to businesses that can use it. Other programs at the facility raise money to make donations to non-profit organizations.

A program called "Cans for Toys" coordinates the recycling of aluminum cans. All the revenue from this project is used to purchase toys at Christmas time for underprivileged children. Many of the employees bring their empty aluminum cans from home to donate to this cause. Six-thousand dollars was made in 2000 from the selling of cans, supplemented by a raffle at the facility for donated items held in November.

"We feel we have a very good program in place as far as the teams are concerned. We are not going to let those go away. As far as new ideas, if there is a new idea to be implemented and it works, we will implement it," said Vadnais.

A Champion Example

Tyco is cooperatively involved with the Texas Natural Resource Conservation Commission, the Mesquite Independent School District, and holds board positions with the Texas Corporate Recycling Council and Dallas County Corporate Recycling Council.

Among others, the facility has received the League of Women Voters Excellence in Environmental Awareness award, the Presidential Environmental and Conservation Challenge Award Citation and the Texas Natural Resource Conservation Commission's Community Recycling Program award.

The innovative recycling and energy saving programs at Tyco are expected to continue to flourish.

"In our case, recycling has saved us money, has helped to create jobs, it has gotten us a lot of awards and it is just the right thing to do," said Vadnais.

When asked about planting an environmental seed at other facilities like the one that grows at Tyco, Vadnais said, "If you don't have top management commitment, you won't go anywhere because you won't have funding or support. Get management commitment, present them some good ideas through a team - you have to have a 'we' - get everyone involved and run with it."

This article appeared in the March 2001 issue of Environmental Protection, Vol. 12, No. 3, on page 34.

This article originally appeared in the 03/01/2001 issue of Environmental Protection.

About the Author

Jim DiPeso is communications director at the Pacific Northwest Pollution Prevention Resource Center, Seattle.