Performance Improvement Ideas

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"Environment health safety program"

August 10th, 2006 by Mike Strawbridge

When I worked at Westvaco, I managed the environmental and safety programs as well as the plant maintenance program.  There I faced a variety of challenges in dealing with the air pollution emissions form two gravure printing presses as well as dealing with the hazardous waste management program.

we were constantly looking for creative ways to reduce our waste disposal costs and to generally reduce our emissions for all sources.  Due to the lager volume of solvents used in the printing operation, we were considered major polluters in most categories.

One of the first systems I installed there was a solvent recovery system.  This large device processed all the air from the two printing presses and scrubbed the organic solvent out of the air using a carbon absorption bed.

The captured solvent was then recovered from the carbon and then distilled to make a usable printing solvent.  Since printing solvent cost about eight dollars a gallon, this system paid for itself in a few years. 

Reusing the solvent in the printing operation required a few changes to some long held beliefs about printing, but overall we were able to continue printing high quality artwork without pumping tons of hydrocarbon into the air.

Much of the work in making the system viable was in educating the printers in the use of the recovered solvent rather than in the technical details of the system.

As the efficiency of our system improved, we eventually began to recover more solvent than we could reuse our selves and started selling solvent to the ink company down the street.

Ironically, this change caught the attention of the hazardous waste control people who could not understand that we were making a profit off what others considered waste.  The trouble we had was that occasionally we would have more material on hand than we had a market for and we would have to send it out to a fuel blender.  This made the material hazardous waste under EPA definitions.

Of course EPA defines a solid waste as a "solid liquid or contained gas destined for disposal"  so who can argue definitions with logic like that.

After lots of legal wrangling, we ended up having to remove our storage tank with a crane and reinstall it while a certified engineer watched.  Same tank, same pipe, same foundation, only now it had been observed by an engineer with the right paperwork.  Who as usual knew less about what was going on than we did.  The only difference now was the tank had been subjected to lots of stress but the x rays showed it survived.

This is just one of the many fun adventures I had dealing with environmental regulations and hazardous waste management.  So if you have an interesting problem and would like a creative suggestion on how to solve it, contact me and lets see what we can do together.

Mike Strawbridge August 10, 2006

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