WEST LIBERTY, Iowa — The 1,900 or so employees at West Liberty Foods’ three plants can produce up to 425 million pounds of food annually — but no more than 1 percent of their garbage is taken to the landfill.
The West Liberty plant, which employs about 830 people, has been certified by an independent agency as “landfill free.” What little garbage the plant produces is burned in a cement plant incinerator, which swapped out nonrecyclable waste for the coal that it previously burned.
The independent certification by NSF International Strategic Registrations means that all three plants are now landfill free. The company’s other facilities are in Mount Pleasant, Iowa, and Tremonton, Utah.
“This accomplishment marks a significant milestone in the history of our company, our industry and our state,” Ed Garrett, president and CEO of West Liberty Foods, said in a news release. “Being ‘landfill free’ is a testament to our team, and it is my hope that other companies will see our success here and undertake similar initiatives in their own businesses.”
The company plans an event this spring to mark its landfill-free status.
According to The National Provisioner, a magazine for the meat industry, Garrett was inspired to make the company landfill free while attending a convention on sustainability.
By becoming committed to recycling and composting, the three plants annually keep 7.5 million pounds of trash out of the landfill — enough to fill 312 residential dump trucks or equivalent to the waste produced by more than 265,000 households.
In 2012, by committing to recycling paper, plastic and other materials as well as composting, workers at the West Liberty plant diverted more than 2 million pounds of trash from the landfill.
“The West Liberty team used innovation to convert soiled plastic into a combustible material that would be accepted by the disposal incinerator,” said Gerald Lessard, the company’s vice president and chief operating officer.
The West Liberty facility now has several stations of recycling carts with
laminated photos on the lid of each one describing exactly what goes inside. The carts are stationed throughout the plant for the convenience of employees.
West Liberty Foods is one of the first companies in the nation to have its landfill-free status confirmed independently. As part of the process, employees followed garbage trucks to the landfill to better understand trash separation and sorting.
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And now, recycling is following them home.
Michelle Elizondo, West Liberty Foods’ marketing manager, said she has noticed employees taking their recycling efforts home as well.
“My husband has always liked to recycle, and now we recycle together,” she said. “It’s a lifestyle.”
It took buy-in from every employee to make the project work, said West Liberty plant manager Tom Alberti.
“At first, it seemed a little overwhelming,” Elizondo said. “A lot of us were holding things up, saying, ‘What do I do with this?’ But overall the reception has been great, and people jumped right on board.”
But, said Alberti, “Once we made a commitment as a company to become landfill free, our team members fully embraced the concept. The marked recycling containers have made it very user friendly and our team members were utilizing them from day one.
“Every obstacle we were faced with,” he added, “was met head-on, and our team members worked hard to find solutions for each of those issues.”