PG+E Electrifies Recycling Rates

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Pacific Gas and Electric Company may be well known for powering millions of customers in California, but the utility provider is also committed to environmental leadership. With approximately 20,000 employees, waste management is a key undertaking.

To integrate efficient handling of non-hazardous waste into the company culture, PG&E has implemented a number of initiatives to prioritize recycling, says Karen Cochran, sustainability manager. The results are impressive:

  • 67 sites finished with a 78% diversion rate in 2012, which exceeded their goal of 73%.
  • Another 48 properties are being added in 2013 for a total of 115 recycling sites.
  • $620,000 has been saved since 2010 from recycling, which doesn’t include avoided costs due to waste management rate increases or added revenue.
  • Improved service yard practices have reduced monthly costs by 43%, or $46,000 a month.
  • 20 sites collect food scraps for composting.

PG&E has a third-party professional track its non-hazardous municipal waste streams on a monthly basis, reporting a diversion rate for each quarter. Materials are broken down by those recycled, composted, and sent to landfill. Waste volume is recorded in tons per individual sites and then the company as a whole.

Not only is progress tracked monthly and quarterly, but annual diversion rates are also compared against others for context.

“We look at diversion rates from cities, corporate sustainability reports from companies within our industry, and other businesses who are leaders in this area,” Cochran notes.

A key driver of PG&E’s recycling success is its emphasis on employee engagement. “You can have the best waste management program, but if people don’t participate or use the bins correctly, you’re not going to make progress,” stresses Cochran.

To support this, the company has developed a Green Ambassador program at many sites. The volunteers coordinate sustainability projects, one of which is proper waste handling and employee education about waste diversion.

“For example, we hold competitions in our headquarters that pit floor against floor in waste diversion contests. We count the bags every day for a month and then compare rates, rewarding winners with the highest and most improved rates,” Cochran explains. “This is a great way to educate employees and keep them focused.”

Beyond traditional recyclables, PG&E also targets materials in its service yards, such as conduit, metals, and construction materials derived from the company’s utility work.

“We’re working with several of our recycling and recovery companies to divert materials such as ceramics and cabling from the landfill,” says Cochran.

Moving forward, PG&E will also start looking at construction projects. Demolition and construction waste is already being diverted but without a central data collection process in place for tracking.

Currently at a 78% diversion rate, the company is on track to exceed its 80% goal for 2014.

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