Waste cut want cut

Richard Burbidge, manufacturer of timber-based home improvement products, has gained ISO 14001. A key benefit has been reducing waste. IEM looks at how it was achieved and some of the profitable, if unusual, outlets for the recycled material.

Richard Burbidge manufactures home improvement products including flooring, mouldings, stair parts, shelving and decking from plants in Oswestry and Chirk, employing 550 people. Turnover is currently around £40m. In the early 1990s, an active role was taken in the pilot programme for BS 7750 – the former British standard for environment management systems (EMS). This has now culminated in the award of ISO 14001 from BM TRADA Certification following consultancy advice from the Furniture Industry Research Association (FIRA).

As projects facilities manager Martyn Freeman explains: “Many innovative projects were underway prior to certification but the system helped to co-ordinate and formalise roles, objectives and improvement programmes. Gaining ISO 14001 has also been applauded by key customers such as B&Q, which takes an active interest in the environmental performance of its suppliers.”

Knots, splits, discolouration

Elimination of waste at source is the primary objective, but where this is not possible, efforts are made to reuse or recover some form of value. Over 50,000m3 of hardwood and softwood are processed per annum, so the reduction of timber waste by just one per cent has substantial cost saving implications. Burbidge estimates that wastage rates are down to about 15% – significantly lower than most solid timber processors. New investment is expected to reduce this figure to 10%.

Analysis showed that the initial cutting of timber was a major area of wastage – knots, splits and discolourations have to be removed. Optimising saws have been in use for many years with the manual marking of timber defects which are scanned by camera heads to give the best cutting pattern – good on reducing waste but labour intensive. Burbidge, therefore, worked with machinery suppliers to pioneer an automated system which uses lasers to detect timber faults. Component requirements are entered into a computer and the timber is loaded, assessed, cut and labelled. The system cost £700,000 but is expected to lead to a further 5% reduction in waste – giving a two to three-year payback based purely on raw material costs. Additional benefits will be reduced handling and storage for both raw material and waste.

Unavoidable off-cuts are used in two main ways. Those of standard thickness and width but varying length are passed through a finger jointing line which creates a much more usable length of timber. Jointed material can be used in much the same way as the virgin timber.

A briquetting machine, installed five years ago, consumes around 24 tonnes of wood dust per week. The briquettes are sold on for resale to the public via garage forecourts, and to a speciality bread company which uses them in timber-fired ovens.

Surplus off-cuts were historically sent to landfill at a cost of £2,600 per month. However, after investigating other outlets, Burbidge now has an agreement with a timber waste company which has installed chipping machines on site – the output goes for animal bedding and the manufacture of board material. The current arrangement operates on a no cost basis, saving the landfill cost minus the cost of running and servicing the chippers.

Positive culture

Wood waste also powers two wood combustion plants – one for space heating and the other heating two timber drying kilns. The kilning operation has proved so successful that a third unit will be added shortly.

The EMS has identified other areas of potential improvement and targets have been set to achieve an annual three per cent reduction in the amount of plastic used. Proactive utilities management has also proved profitable. Management systems installed for water and electricity and a variety of energy saving initiatives are paying dividends – minimum energy savings of at least one per cent a year have been set.

Environmental training has played a key role in reducing waste. Training sessions to raise general awareness have been held, suggestions are encouraged and figures are regularly circulated to show what progress has been achieved. Ongoing feedback has been vital to maintaining momentum in many programmes.

Past successes have helped to foster the positive environmental culture. Environmental management is not seen as a chore revolving around legal compliance. According to Martyn Freeman: “Everyone in the company is now convinced of the benefits and consequently willing to contribute ideas and participate in improvement programmes.”

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