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Working toward zero waste

Recycle binsBentonville, Arkansas — Work done in UL’s Bentonville Consumer and Retail Services Laboratory includes the chemical and analytical analysis and the physical and mechanical testing of textiles and apparel. Customers will often need to provide samples of these types of goods for testing. In some cases, the testing process will not destroy the submitted samples and the resulting waste ends up in landfills. 

In order to find ways to address this waste-to-landfill challenge, the Bentonville laboratory began exploring more sustainable methods to manage their softlines testing remains. A Bentonville softlines customer also wanted to improve their efforts to manage waste and collaborated with UL employees on this topic. With a shared desire to achieve zero waste, the Consumer and Retail Services Laboratory and softlines customer were able to implement a solution to reuse and recover their submitted samples. 

UL has particular challenges in this space. The testing samples received from customers often span an exceptionally broad range of items. In this case, it was impossible to find one Bentonville vendor who would accept all the types of items for recycling, so the softlines laboratory employs two vendors.  

“There was a lot of Googling to find a solution, and a lot of trial and error,” Kristie Humphreys, administrative services manager of verification services in Bentonville, said. “Many of the vendors we contacted could only handle a specific type of material such as cotton, for example.”  

Currently, some of the test samples are sent to a waste-to-energy facility. The rest are recycled for use in industrial applications. 

“We also have to protect the privacy and intellectual property of our customers, so we had to ensure these goods did not get back into the marketplace,” Humphreys added. “Other types of companies might be able to lower their costs by reselling goods to be upcycled or sold as used.” 

The change in processes required more work from the team, such as sorting goods into the appropriate colored bags and/or labeled bins. However, after employees adjusted to the new routine, there was no measurable increase in time spent managing waste.  

Bentonville employees are now trying to find even more ways to recycle their sample waste, which can include metals, plastics and many other materials, while collaborating with UL’s Corporate Sustainability team to share their progress. 

“I think many of us who are working on solving sustainability issues are in the same place. We’re working locally or by division to solve problems and then share what we’ve learned so that others can address their challenges,” said Operations Director, Mark Moor. “It would be ideal to discover ways to do even more at a lower cost, because we all know it’s the right thing to do.”