Cummins employees learn the true meaning of ‘zero-disposal’

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Cummins employee Chuck Crowder working one of the waste separation stations at the Dig IN celebration.
Cummins employee Chuck Crowder working one of the waste separation stations at the Dig IN celebration.

I have a greater appreciation now for the “zero-disposal” goal many of our Cummins plants are pursuing these days.

On Sunday (Aug. 25), I was one of several Cummins volunteers at Dig IN, A Taste of Indiana. This one-day event celebrates Indiana chefs, breweries, wineries and food raised in our state.  One of many great things about this Indianapolis celebration is that organizers also embraced “zero-disposal” as one of their goals.

So rather than White River State Park’s usual trash cans that collected general refuse there were 30 to 35 stations around the festival grounds to separate plastics, aluminum cans and glass from compostable material like food, paper plates, paper towels and utensils made of material that was biodegradable. Our goal: recycle or compost as much of the festival trash as possible!

The zero-disposal initiative at Dig IN was led by the Indiana Recycling Coalition, a group dedicated to waste reduction, reuse and recycling as well as composting. The coalition recruited volunteers to help Dig IN visitors separate their trash.

Each recruit had responsibility for five or six areas – easy, right? Little did we know that a small plastic sample cup many food booths passed out would turn out to be a real challenge.

Since visitors could throw their plates, food, paper napkins and utensils in the compost receptacles, many thought the plastic sample cups could go there, too. All of our recycling volunteers started education efforts at our individual trash areas. Almost every visitor was apologetic and quickly started throwing the plastic sample cups in with the plastic bottles, cans and glass.

We would then move on to our next station and the same thing happened. As I repeated my spiel a group of sympathetic school teachers sitting nearby on a bench said they were all too familiar with my plight. “We are constantly reminding our students to read the directions,” one said, pointing to the sign at the disposal station that clearly stated the plastic cups were to go with the bottles and cans (see the attached picture).

I donned some plastic gloves and started pulling out the sample cups in my compost bags but as soon as I had one of my compost stations cup free, my other stations had filled with the cups again as new visitors arrived.

I admit I became a little frantic. “No, no, no, don’t,” I said to many patrons who appeared to be on the verge of tossing a cup into the bag of compostable material. Most of the time, however, they were merely throwing food that was in the cups into the compost bag before correctly putting the cups in with the bottles and cans.

But it only took a few cups to wreak havoc with our compost plans.

So what were my takeaways? Zero-disposal is much more difficult than I thought. One little item can throw off all your efforts. Controlling your waste stream is critical.

In this year’s Sustainability Report, we reported that three Cummins’ plants had achieved zero-disposal status by reusing or recycling all byproducts in a useful manner, leaving nothing to be disposed of by landfill or incineration. They are: The Jamestown (N.Y.) Engine Plant, the Darlington (U.K.) Engine Plant and the Cummins Filtration Plant in Quimper, France. Several others are close to reaching that designation.

Now I know what an accomplishment that is. Congratulations!



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