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Virco virtually waste-free: Conway company makes $187,000 from recycling in '92.

A PASSION FOR RECYcling began in 1989 at Virco Manufacturing Corp. in Conway, and it has progressed to such a level that state pollution officials say the firm has no waste at its 1,400-employee plant on U.S. Highway 65.

The officials speak in jest, but being waste-free seems to be Virco's goal.

The catalyst for the move to recycling was Hugh Tyler, who became general manager of the Conway facility in 1988. The plant, a subsidiary of Virco Manufacturing Corp. in Los Angeles, manufactures commercial and educational furniture.

In October 1989, Virco began its program by recycling cardboard instead of having it hauled to the Conway landfill at a significant cost. Since then, Virco has recycled about 4.5 million pounds of cardboard, says Don Curran, Virco's recycling manager.

"When you throw 1.2 million pounds of cardboard away a year, you finally realize there may be a use for that stuff," Curran says. "We did that for several years without anybody thinking about it. It's not only good environmental sense, it's good business sense to find uses for your waste."

But the program has grown to include almost everything in sight.

Curran estimates that Virco's recycling department last year made $187,000, with $28,000 of that in cardboard recycling.

"Now we recycle all our plastics, our hazardous wastes, about 7.3 million pounds of steel a year," Curran says. "We clean, filter and recook our hydraulic oil and reuse all that. Since that program started, we've done about 848,000 quarts of oil."

Virco also takes its No. 2 scrap frame metal with minor defects and sells it through a used-furniture outlet. The firm also has an office-paper recycling program.

A Dozen Programs

In all, Virco has 12 waste-reduction programs. Other recycling programs include foam rubber, tires, batteries, water and wood scraps and sawdust.

"Every day, we try to find something new to recycle," Curran says.

Virco won an Environmental Protection Agency award for its waste reduction in 1992 over companies of similar size in the five-state region of Arkansas, Louisiana, Texas, Oklahoma and New Mexico.

Possibly the epitome of recycling at Virco is its painting process, which literally is near the level of zero waste.

Virco once painted its furniture on an assembly line with wet paint blown from paint guns. In September 1990, it began the program with the goal of reducing and eventually eliminating all environmental liabilities associated with wet-paint production.

A wet-paint system was replaced with a powder-coat painting system.

"The paint is just like talcum powder; it's that fine," Curran says. "It is blown onto the furniture electrostatically inside a booth. It bonds to the furniture and runs through the paint system bake oven and is baked to 700 or 800 degrees, with virtually no fumes getting out of it.

"You just clean the booth up, and you can reuse the paint that is stuck to the sides of it. You can vacuum it up and put it right back into the process. It's constantly taking the dust that does not hit the furniture and puts it back into the system."

Virco had emitted 331 tons of volatile organic compounds annually under the old system. With the new system, Virco emits 22.5 tons of VOCs annually.

It isn't easy to determine the total cost Virco has saved by using the waste-reduction programs, but Curran says "it would probably be astronomical on just the waste going to the landfill."

Curran says Virco has a 22-yard dump truck it has used for years to take seven or eight trips daily to the Conway landfill. That has been reduced to one 42-yard box of compacted waste taken daily to the landfill.

Jim Shirrell, chief of the state Department of Pollution Control & Ecology's marketing division, says taking a similar load from construction sites to a landfill can cost as much as $300 each. Virco's costs are not that high, however, because it uses its own vehicle and does not have to pay for pickup and delivery of the waste to the landfill.

Curran says Virco is using more than 30,000 pounds of sawdust in a product it produces at the plant. Before, it had been totally wasted.

"We're in the process of buying grinding equipment, and we're going to take all our wood stream |waste~ and put it through that grinding equipment," Curran says. "Then we'll be reusing all our wood waste. We're hopefully looking to having only one 42-yard box of waste taken to the landfill each week."

Shirrell notes that businesses have focused primarily on reducing hazardous wastes because of the extremely high cost of disposing of them.

"If they could recycle or eliminate hazardous wastes, then they could save all the money that it costs to dispose of it," Shirrell says.

Gold in the Dumpsters?

Arkansas Companies Concentrate on Recycling Non-Hazardous Wastes

ARKANSAS BUSINESSES may be sitting atop a gold mine they don't even know exists.

In fact, they are probably tossing the potential gold into the dumpsters outside their offices.

For years, many businesses have concentrated on reducing hazardous wastes because of the high disposal cost.

"But now many businesses and industries are moving to the next phase, which is to reduce and recycle the portion of waste that is non-hazardous," says Donna Etchieson, recycling coordinator for the Arkansas Department of Pollution Control & Ecology. "There can be major bottom-line cost savings in doing this."

In 1991, the Arkansas General Assembly passed three pieces of recycling legislation as part of Gov. Bill Clinton's environmental package, says Bill Reinhardt, chief of PC&E's recycling division.

One bill established a tax-credit program allowing a 30 percent state income tax credit for the purchase of recycling equipment.

Another bill created a state Marketing Board for Recyclables. Its goal is to recycle 30 percent of the 1991 solid waste stream by 1995 and 40 percent by 2000. The types of solid waste targeted include lead acid batteries, plastics and waste tires.

The third established the duties, responsibilities and powers of what are now Arkansas' 17 solid waste management districts.

But PC&E and the state realize that none of this will be successful if businesses and individual households have no incentives to recycle.

Jim Shirrell, chief of PC&E's marketing division, says the emphasis has been to push for waste recycling without really having a market for some of the recycled products.

"We have to create a market pull rather than a market push," Shirrell says. "The entrepreneurial spirit of the American businessman says that if there is a resource that is fairly cheap, and in some cases free, we'll look for something we can do with that."

To that end, an Arkansas Buy Recycle Business Alliance is in the formative stages. Among other things, the alliance would ask businesses to examine the purchase of suitable recycled products.

No Craving for Recycled Products

A recent article in The Economist notes that many people love recycling but do not have the same craving to buy products made of recycled materials.

There are markets out there, but they may not be easy to find. Arkansas companies such as Virco Manufacturing Corp. in Conway and Systematics Information Services Inc. in Little Rock have seen savings and profits from recycling as much waste as possible, Shirrell says.

The Arkansas Recycling Coalition will sponsor the third Arkansas Recycling Conference and Exhibition Aug. 17-19 at the Holiday Inn-Northwest Arkansas Conference Center in Springdale. Some of the topics discussed will be how recycling provides jobs, how to audit your amount of waste, proper plastic processing and recycling special materials.

In April 1994, the Environmental Protection Agency will implement new landfill regulations that will make siting landfills more difficult, Etchieson says. Under the new guidelines, landfills will not be allowed near an airport, in a seismic activity zone or in a flood-plain.

All that will tend to increase the cost of disposing of wastes and make lowering the amount of waste more attractive to businesses.

"Businesses clearly understand if they can cut their waste stream and not pay those disposal costs, it pays in the end," Shirrell says.
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Title Annotation:includes related article; Virco Manufacturing Corp.; Conway, Arkansas
Author:Smith, David (American novelist)
Publication:Arkansas Business
Date:Jun 14, 1993
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Next Article:PC&E test site No. 1: $24 million at stake in PC&E's first arbitration case.

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