Aberdeen plant dives for zero

By Mary Kate Bailey, manufacturing manager

The Beginning   

It all began with a dumpster dive.  

Three years ago, our bleach plant in Aberdeen, Maryland, decided to push its already-strong recycling culture and embark on a zero waste to landfill (ZWtL) journey. 

Of course, that meant a dumpster dive — something plant team members weren’t too keen to perform. But perform it they did.  

“The day came, and we suited up, put on our gloves and dumped the dumpster,” recalled Dave Manuel, process associate and Eco Team member. “We all quickly went from being grossed out to completely embracing what we had to do.” 

Sustainability ideas began to flow with that dumpster dive, and the local eco team, led at the time by Chuck Marzen, knew Aberdeen was up for the challenge of getting to zero waste. Within weeks, over 85% of the plant’s waste was being recycled and reused. 

From there, eco leaders sought ways small and large to improve performance, be it getting rid of plastic bottles in the plant’s vending machines or establishing new processes for recycling streams. 

Impact of the pandemic 

COVID-19 brought new challenges to Aberdeen: Demand for its products was so high, the lines were running around the clock. It also started to modify a line to produce disinfecting solution for Clorox Total 360 electrostatic sprayers. 

“There suddenly were a lot more people and materials coming into the plant,” said Dave Manuel. “The team looked at this as a way to test the systems we had put in place.” 

Lorraine Hannah, environmental coordinator, made sure every temporary worker, new hire and contractor knew the site’s recycling procedures. The Eco Team also evaluated the new material coming in for T-360 and set up a recycling procedure for that new material. Because English was a second language for some of the temporary workers, the Eco Team created labels with pictures that showed what material belonged in each bin.  

Overcoming a setback 

The team faced a setback when it tried to send the last of its waste to a Waste-to-Energy (WtE) facility.  

Harford County, where the Aberdeen plant is located, used to have a WtE facility. That closed in 2016, but an old statute remained on the books that prohibited any waste collected within Harford County to be hauled to any WtE site outside the county.  

Efforts to secure permission to send the plant’s waste to the nearest WtE site outside of Harford County were slowed by COVID. After many months, the county finally approved in February 2021 Aberdeen’s request to send its waste to a WtE site. 

With this final piece of the zero-waste puzzle in place, the Aberdeen Eco Team figured out how to complete internal audits while following social distancing requirements. To keep all team members engaged, the Eco Team started adding up points every time an audit found a bin with the wrong material in it. These results were shared weekly, and each department developed a healthy competition to log the fewest points.  

Aberdeen passed its final, virtual audit on May 5 and was certified Clorox’s  21st ZWtL site May 12.  

Its slogan, “Bleach is our game and Zero Waste is our aim,” rings true with a 98% diversion rate, noted Morgan Hale, Environmental Sustainability, Manufacturing Leadership Development Program.  

And Will Smith, Aberdeen’s plant manager, said, “Taking the next step and achieving ZWtL certification in a pandemic shows anything is possible when we put our minds to ACTION. That’s what winning is all about.” 

Making progress on our IGNITE goals 

As part of our IGNITE strategy, Clorox is committed to helping create a clean world. Our environmental commitments include our a stated goal for 100% of our plants to be certified ZWtL by 2025. Aberdeen, Maryland, is the 21st Clorox facility to be certified ZWTL and one of seven to achieve that goal in fiscal year 2021.