Reduce-Reuse-Recycle: A Plan to Manage Waste (Goal 4)

April 1, 2011

For SEPTA, waste handling is an industry that costs millions of dollars per year. The wide variety of waste streams that result from the scale and diversity of SEPTA's day-to-day operations requires a comprehensive approach to management and operational control. SEPTA's Sustainability Program establishes a framework for developing a strategy to manage these waste streams in a more economically efficient and environmentally friendly way.

SEPTA's waste management strategy is centered on three fundamental concepts, based on guidance from the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA):

  • (1) Reduce & (2) Reuse: According to the EPA, the most effective way to reduce waste is to not create it in the first place. By reducing and reusing, SEPTA can preserve natural resources and reduce costs. By designing, manufacturing, purchasing, or using materials in ways that reduce the waste created, SEPTA can stop waste at the source.
  • (3) Recycle: Even where waste is unavoidable, recycling can turn materials that would otherwise become waste into valuable resources. Recycling used bottles, cans, newspapers, and cardboard is just the first in a series of steps that generates a host of financial, environmental, and social returns.

These three pillars - reducing, reusing, and recycling - will guide SEPTA's waste management strategy geared towards generating these financial, environmental, and social returns for the entire region.

Progress To-Date

In 2010, SEPTA took a major step forward by shifting from an ad hoc to centralized procurement process for industrial waste streams. Centralization enabled SEPTA to implement a comprehensive waste management program at maintenance facilities across the organization. The program, in turn, has helped managers by eliminating the need for local procurements and allowing them to expeditiously recycle or dispose of wastes generated at their facilities. Waste disposal records are managed locally and are available centrally.

The outcomes: streamlined authority-wide waste management; a higher level of compliance with state and federal regulations; centralized waste disposal record-keeping; and a new repository of data and information used for making strategic waste minimization decisions.

These outcomes have positively impacted SEPTA's bottom line. For example, in 2010 recovery of 129,625 gallons of recycled waste oil generated $138,000 in economic value - $84,000 in revenue and another $54,000 in avoided disposal fees.

SEPTA also generates significant economic returns from recycling its high-value scrap materials. In 2009 scrap metals returned $3.1 million thanks in large part to a strong market for steel rail from a decommissioned right of ways.

In many respects, the last frontier of waste management at SEPTA is at its passenger facilities. While SEPTA provides source-separated recycling at its 1234 Market Street headquarters and Center City regional rail facilities (Market East, Suburban Station, 30th Street Station, Temple University Station, and University City Station), the program has yet to be rolled out to outlying regional rail and transit stations.

Beginning this spring, SEPTA will extend its recycling program to passenger and employee facilities across the region. To capture recyclable materials, SEPTA plans to repurpose approximately half of its waste receptacles for recycling, collect recyclables with a different color bag, and spot new compactors at collection facilities across the region to ensure that recyclable materials are properly delivered to collection facilities. In addition, a comprehensive signage and communications campaign will be rolled out to educate passengers and employees on the new recycling program.

Successful implementation will save SEPTA hundreds of thousands of dollars in annual waste hauling costs and could generate significant new revenue by capturing the value of recycled materials. Ultimately, this passenger and employee recycling program will be the primary mechanism through which SEPTA can achieve its goal to divert at least 20 percent of its system-wide municipal waste by 2015.

A Broader Solid Waste Management Strategy

The comprehensive passenger and employee recycling program is but one of several strategies that SEPTA's Sustainability Program will evaluate to improve waste management practices. Other strategies will include:

Quantifying and tracking SEPTA's material flow. Currently, SEPTA lacks adequate data on material flows to establish a baseline for waste diversion. Tracking this information will better prepare SEPTA to monitor trends in waste, make informed strategic decisions, and observe the effects of programmatic initiatives or adjustments.

Create green procurement policies. SEPTA will evaluate cost-effective opportunities for green procurement to identify more environmentally sustainable products and services.

Institute lifecycle analysis. Lifecycle costing helps to inform procurement decisions and become more efficient over the long-term by providing a mechanism to justify sustainable purchases with a strong return-on-investment.

Promote SEPTA rider conservation. While SEPTA will be providing receptacles, the burden of compliance with its recycling program ultimately falls on its customers. SEPTA will be broadening its communication efforts this spring to emphasize the importance of recycling as a component of SEPTA's conservation efforts.

Evaluate repair-return-leasing opportunities. A growing number of suppliers are offering products for lease rather than for purchase. To the supplier, the benefit of a lease arrangement is the ability to capitalize directly on recycling opportunities. To the leaser, the burden of disposal and relevant fees are relieved. Leasing opportunities exist for vehicle tires, office carpets, and a number of products that SEPTA would otherwise need to dispose of itself.

Increase contractor awareness. SEPTA's commitment to environmental leadership ultimately should be incorporated into its supply chain management. SEPTA's Sustainability Program should be used to instruct contract specifications to ensure that contractors and consultants understand and conform to its strategic objectives.

Expand upon scrap commodity management and surplus material sales programs. SEPTA generates millions of dollars each year through the sale of scrap metals, and should continue to evaluate opportunities to sell reusable materials on secondary markets. SEPTA should also strengthen its program to return rejected materials to vendors to ensure effective and timely return of new materials from supplier companies.

"Close the loop" with recycled materials. In addition to its strategies to improve waste management, SEPTA will be evaluating cost effective opportunities to "close the loop" on recycling through the purchase and use of recycled materials, wherever possible.

What's Next

With that, we have completed our summary of SEPTA's environmental sustainability agenda. The four goals - improve greenhouse gas and criteria air pollutant emissions performance; improve water use and pollutant discharge performance; improve energy intensity performance; and reduce and reuse waste - each feature measurable performance indicators and specific tactical initiatives to achieve ambitious targets by 2015.

The same is true for SEPTA's social sustainability agenda. Next week, we'll begin our description of the four goals that comprise SEPTA's efforts to build livable communities across the region while at the same time developing a skilled and versatile workforce.

Next Week: Building Livable Communities through Transit