Making an Effective Environmental Program Even Better

Sean Sessions of Group Health and Edwin Brazil of King County Department of Natural Resources and Parks

Sean Sessions of Group Health and Edwin Brazil of King County Department of Natural Resources and Parks discuss ways to recover more resources from solid waste.

King County’s solid waste transfer stations play an important role in keeping recyclable and reusable materials out of the Cedar Hills Regional Landfill. In April of 2014, the County’s Solid Waste Division (SWD) launched a pilot program to increase recovery of metal, cardboard, and clean wood by capturing more of these materials before they are permanently buried in the landfill.

These three materials were chosen strategically; wood takes up a lot of landfill space; cardboard and metal generate revenue. The pilot program, located at the Shoreline Recycling & Transfer Station, focuses on developing tactics to rescue more of these materials.

The program has been very successful:

See the jump in resource recovery after the pilot program began in April 2014.
Approximately 250% jump in targeted materials since the pilot program began in April 2014.

How Can We Make a Successful Environmental Program Even Better? 

SWD aims to roll the program out to other transfer stations in the near future, pending King County Council approval of the Resource Recovery proviso. However, before that rollout, the folks at SWD want to see if they could make the program even more effective. The team at Shoreline, working with King County Lean Specialists Vicki Oyadomari and Edwin Brazil, recently spent three days (September 30 through October 2) testing ways to optimize the recovery process for customers and staff, and also to fine-tune implementation plans for the resource recovery program at other transfer stations.

SWD has also had the great fortune of a volunteer partnership with Lean specialists from Group Health. Group Health Lean experts Sean Sessions and Krista Williams co-facilitated the three-day testing event and helped the people who do the work at SWD identify opportunities for improvement and to assess the countermeasures that they tested.

This is the 2nd year that King County’s Solid Waste Division has benefited from the learning partnership expertise of Group Health’s Lean team. In fact, current King County Lean Specialist Vicki Oyadomari was one of the Group Health Lean experts who participated last year. (We thought so much of Vicki that we hired her!)

How About We Walk It?

The team wanted to try a number of different arrangements on the tipping floor (see pic below) as well as on the deck where self-haulers dump. Would putting a wood receptacle here be more effective than having it over there? What process could the small excavator operator use to capture the most recyclables? And many other questions.

In the testing workshop, each time a question came up or someone offered a proposal, the team went out to the floor and tried it. “How about we walk it?” was the refrain.

“Walking it” allowed the team to see (and gather data on) how well certain approaches worked.

The team walking the workspace.

The team walking the workspace; they plan to continue testing adding similar collection bins for cardboard and wood, an idea that showed positive initial results during the testing event.

The Benefits of Testing

Eric Johnson, a project manager with SWD, has been one of the people spearheading the recovery program. He explains the importance of testing new ideas, even though the program has been very successful already, “We’ve been doing this for about one and a half years. We want to take another look through the Lean workshop: are there ways to organize the work and the process to be more effective?”

Johnson also points out that every station is unique. As the resource recovery program rolls out to those locations (pending Council approval), the team wants to know more about alternative equipment arrangements, different work processes, and new ways of educating customers about the importance of separating their waste and recyclables.

Ken Johnson, an Transfer Station Operator at Shoreline (and no relation to Eric), emphasizes the importance the entire team sees in making this program as effective as possible for the people of King County, “We have to source separate. People can’t just keep throwing things away and expecting them to be buried.”

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