When making a move to their new building, Northerm shifted not only their location, but their approach to waste They made some changes on their own, then hired someone to do an environmental audit, identifying how the company could maximize reuse or recycling of materials otherwise being sent to the landfill. The zerowaste principles that they have put in place have since reduced their waste by two thirds, while cutting their waste management costs in half!
Packaging and Shipping
The most fragile material that Northerm uses is glass, which it ships up to Whitehorse for processing. Northerm makes a point of repurposing or recycling all of the materials they receive with the glass as packaging.
For example, cardboard that was used to transport the raw materials is provided to local customers for their use when transporting windows home. What cardboard isn’t reused is diverted from the landfill for recycling.
Styrofoam is also reused when Northerm ships products to its customers throughout the north. As of March, Northerm has been sending their extra Styrofoam to Raven Recycling so that it can be compacted by their new machine and sent south for recycling.
Good, square wooden pallets are kept in the warehouse for re-use.
The remainder of the wood shipped up with their raw materials ends up in a bin rented from PNW, who picks it up monthly and brings it to someone that burns it for heat. The company is currently looking into the possibility of eventually heating their building with this “waste” wood. These practices not only reduce the demand for wood or heating fuel, but they also help keep organic material out of the landfill, reducing the amount of toxic leacheate that it unintentionally produces.
Northerm watches its waste production as well as its bottom line by minimizing waste of their raw materials in the first place. Each material is processed in a way that maximizes its use for producing the company’s signature products.
One of their biggest steps involved separating glass out of their waste stream. Glass, with its high shipping costs and currently low market value is difficult to divert from the landfill. Fortunately, glass poses few hazards when processed into a manageable form, such as sand or clean fill. Northerm is currently investigating the possibility of crushing their own glass to the size that will be useful for covering waste being buried in the landfill. This solution is much preferred to mixing it with other unsorted material brought to the landfill. Northerm is already sorting its glass out of the wastestream. They are currently looking into whether they can justify the purchase of their own glass-crushing machine to avoid the tipping fees of $87/tonne they must pay if they send their glass to the dump.
The leftover pieces of PVC used in window construction were being sent to the landfill until a few years ago they contacted the supplier on recycling this product. Northerm is now sending the leftover material back to the company they purchased it from and are receiving a credit for doing so. The material is then remelted and formed into new material that is sent back up for making windows. On the day we visited, Northerm had just shipped out a 30 foot tractor trailor full of PVC cutoffs.
Northerm has also found some creative ways to repurpose some of the materials kicking around the shop. When making doors, using a router in the shop, they will cut out holes customized for windows that clients have requested.
These cut-outs are saved from doors where metal can be separated from the insulation. People can use the door cutouts for skirting their campers or trailers. For doors where the metal can be separated from the insulation, Northerm saves the insulation for people requesting it and sends the metal for recycling. Though recycling the metal doesn’t always yield a financial return due to fluctuating market prices, separating it out avoids the need to pay tipping fees for bringing the material to the landfill, not to mention helps keep the material in production. Additionally, the remaining material can also be used to insulate sheds and other things. Northerm saves this material for people who call them from time to time.
Staff at Northerm also don’t forget to have fun. Money from refundables as well as aluminum that they stockpile goes into their social fund for staff pizza parties. By returning cutoffs from the aluminum-framed screen doors they produce, they recently got 30 cents a pound and so $400 went into their social fund.
Mitch Meda, the environmental steward for Northerm couldn’t highlight enough the value of having good advice from their environmental auditor, making a plan and being patient. Knowing what can be diverted and working with staff to make diversion as easy as possible during day-to-day routines helped the process immensely.
Mitch also highlighted that their zerowaste efforts aren’t a one-off event, they’re a part of the everyday operation, which has also helped to make them successful.
When looking to the future, Mitch says ‘everybody everywhere is going to have to do this. Every community is going to have some form of strategic waste action plan. Congratulations to Northerm for leading the way!