By Jan. 1, Santa Fe Natural Tobacco plans to be recycling about 97% of its manufacturing waste, with the other 3% converted to energy at waste-to-energy facilities, replacing fossil fuels.
Santa Fe Natural Tobacco is working hard to protect the environment. It’s a lofty environmental goal—one that relatively few companies attempt. But Jamie Morgan has said that Santa Fe Natural Tobacco Co. plans to make it happen at its manufacturing plant in Oxford, N.C., by the end of this year.
“We’re shooting for zero waste going to the landfill from our manufacturing processes,” said Morgan, the environmental health and safety manager at SFNTC’s Oxford facility. “We want to be landfill free by 2013, and we’ve found a way to recycle the remaining materials that we’ve been sending to the dump.”
SFNTC, the maker of Natural American Spirit tobacco products, has long prided itself on its many efforts to operate in an environmentally sustainable manner. All of the company’s facilities are 100% wind-powered. They’ve all qualified for ISO 14001 environmental certification since 2009. And SFNTC is the only tobacco company that has earned the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency’s prestigious Green Power Leadership Award (in 2010, 2011 and 2012).
Since its founding 30 years ago, SFNTC’s reputation as a strong steward of the environment has helped differentiate the company and its Natural American Spirit brand, which is made with tobacco that is 100% additive-free.
“Becoming a zero-waste-to-landfill facility was a tough nut to crack,” Morgan admited. “In 2011, Mike Little, our company president, suggested that we make that our goal. But it took a lot of hard work—a lot of people doing a lot of research and a lot of leg work—to get to the point that we’re at today.”
Morgan started the process by creating a “Report Card spreadsheet” that detailed all of the raw materials that are shipped to the plant, along with the associated waste. For example, a pallet of cigarette cartons would include the cartons, slip sheets, corner board, shrink wrap, ply board and the pallet.
“With this, we could determine what was being received into the plant, what was being recycled and what waste streams we needed to source,” he noted.
SFNTC’s Oxford manufacturing plant has been recycling waste cardboard and paperboard for a number of years. And last year, they completed a major project that made their efforts to recycle tobacco dust more automated and more efficient.
“Tobacco dust is high in nitrogen, so it’s an ideal component of commercial compost,” Morgan said. “In 2010 and 2011 alone, our composting program diverted more than 118 tons of tobacco dust from going to the landfill. That’s good for the environment, and from a financial point of view, we pretty much come out even.”
SFNTC has made a lot of progress in its ongoing efforts to reduce the pre-consumer waste it sends to the landfill. But two materials have prevented the plant from becoming totally landfill free: the cellulose acetate that’s used to make cigarette filters, and the polypropylene wrap and tear-tape that surrounds every cigarette pack.
“Those materials are hard to recycle, and it took us a while to find a company that could recycle them for us,” Morgan said. “But by the first of the year, we should be recycling all of that waste, too. At that point, we’ll be recycling about 97% of our manufacturing waste, with the other 3% converted to energy at waste-to-energy facilities, replacing fossil fuels.”
Why go through all the effort to become a zero-waste-to-landfill facility? “We care about the environment, we work hard to be the most environmentally friendly tobacco company, and I believe we’re doing a good job with that,” Little said. “It’s a big part of what makes us different. It’s important to us and it’s important to our customers.”