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Trash Compactor: E4S's zero waste initiative is far from zero-sum proposition

Reducing waste at the Cleveland Clinic. Photos Bob Perkoski
Reducing waste at the Cleveland Clinic. Photos Bob Perkoski
In the fast-emerging era of reduce, reuse and recycle, Cleveland businesses are learning that tracking their trash and finding ways to remove more of it from the waste stream isn't a waste of time. In fact, waste reduction efforts can be quite profitable. For instance, thanks to its ongoing efforts to improve sustainability, Cleveland Metroparks Zoo generated almost $14,000 last year from recycling, up from just $1,000 in 2003.

"Up until 2004, the Zoo recycled 12 different categories of materials," says Nancy Hughes, sustainability and compost/recycling coordinator for the Zoo. "Today, we have approximately 21 different materials that get recycled." Several of those materials, she adds, feed revenue-generating recycling programs that are open year-round to visitors, including collections for paper, cell phones, printer cartridges, aluminum can collections, and compact fluorescent bulbs.

Hughes credits the work of Entrepreneurs for Sustainability (E4S) in generating excitement in the region about sustainability and waste reduction. She is actively involved as a core team member of the E4S Zero Waste Initiative, and she participated in the first E4S Sustainability Implementation Group in 2005.

"By incorporating the principles of sustainability and striving toward a goal of zero waste," she says, "the Zoo can help protect our environment, positively impact the safety and well-being of the animals in our care, and reduce costs as well."

The Cleveland Clinic also is enjoying rewards from its waste-reduction efforts initiated four years ago by CEO Dr. Toby Cosgrove. With the same vigor that the Clinic pioneers new treatments for heart or cancer patients, they are attacking the highly regulated and complex waste stream that a hospital generates. According to Christina Vernon, senior director of the Clinic's Office for Healthy Environment, the hospital produces more than 40 different categories of waste each month on the main campus.

At the heart of the Clinic's innovative approach to this immense challenge stands a new service center. The LEED Silver Certified building is equipped with a sophisticated material handling system that features Automated Guided Vehicles (aka robots) to shuttle and ultimately remove waste material from the facility. Additional waste is trimmed by providing the various departments with exactly what they need, say, breaking down a package of 12 items into 10, thus reducing waste generated by discarding expired supplies.

The Clinic also launched an innovative color-coded waste handling system known as "Purple Bag" to distinguish various types of trash. That program is now being deployed at hospitals throughout the U.S. An internal furniture recycling program enables the hospital to save on new furniture expenses, while no longer useful items are donated to the Cleveland Furniture Bank. Unused medical supplies are offered to MedWish, which distributes them worldwide.

Since early 2007, the Clinic has progressed from a seven-percent to a 29-percent recycling rate -- not bad for a hospital, where much of the waste is ineligible for recycling.

Vernon believes the synergy of Cleveland's green-minded organizations such as E4S, Corporate Sustainability Network, University Circle Green Team, and waste management companies that handle recyclables have proved invaluable to the Clinic's waste reduction bottom line.

"Engaging in community dialogue surfaces opportunities for us and allows us to share what we're learning, so that we can help the whole community make progress in this arena," she concludes.

Sometimes smaller businesses can set a good example for everyone. Fully committed to green building and operations, the Greenhouse Tavern has implemented a number of exemplary initiatives to handle waste. They started by performing roughly 90% historic renovation and incorporated numerous green elements, from the way construction was handled to recycling carpet tiles obtained from ZeroLandfill Cleveland into a patchwork floor in one of the dining areas.

The design incorporates recycled glass and concrete bartops that were made onsite from glass they collected personally, as well as custom Bicycle Lights with scraps from Ohio City Bike Co-Op and Bottle Light Stairs. Additionally, Greenhouse boasts Energy Star equipment throughout, from the HVAC units on the roof and the point-of-sale systems to warewashing and office machines.

"It was an important proof of concept designed to stoke the imagination of the patrons and other restaurateurs as to what they could do in their own buildings," says Jonathan Sin-Jin Satayathum, who worked closely with the Greenhouse Tavern's owners as a design and sustainability consultant. "But also a testament to what grass-roots cooperation with your community can achieve."

The East 4th Street eatery may have achieved acclaim for serving 80% local food, but they also identified innovative ways to divert one ton of organic waste per month to composting. Satayathum, who has been involved with E4S's Zero Waste Initiative since its inception, along with owners Jonathon and Emilia Sawyer and Jonathan Seeholzer, asked the city of Cleveland to participate in a larger waste initiative for the Gateway District and to create one commingled recycling receptacle for everyone on the block.

Satayathum is now designing a rooftop water harvesting system that includes storm water management strategies and water harvesting systems that will support a rooftop greenhouse, landscaping and edible garden crops they expect to complete later this year.

Last fall, the tavern became the first restaurant in Ohio to receive 3-star status from the Green Restaurant Association of Boston, and hope to be recognized as one of GRA's first 4-star restaurants in the US by next year.
"You don't have to be in Portland to make these things happen," says Satayathum. "You can do it right here in Cleveland."

Carter Strang, a partner at the downtown law firm of Tucker Ellis & West, says his firm's hands are largely tied when it comes to recycling because the building's owner arranges waste collection. But that doesn't mean the firm can't reduce its output, which it did by adopting double-sided printing and other measures. These simple steps, he explains, reduced paper usage by 15 percent while saving the firm more than $4,000 a year.

"Law firms use an awful lot of paper," Strang confesses.

Tucker Ellis & West also participates in a computer equipment recycling program through One Community, which trains and hires Job Corps members to ready computers for donation to Cleveland city schools. Strang also chairs the Cleveland Metropolitan Bar Association's Green Initiatives program.

"We want to be less wasteful and more environmentally responsible in every way that we can," he says. "And whatever we do at the office spills over to people's behavior at home."

This story originally appeared in Fresh Water Cleveland.
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