Waste reduction and recycling
Waste reduction and recycling have significant environmental benefits. Recycling keeps waste out of landfills and avoids landfill fees. It’s less energy and water intensive, decreases GHG and conserves natural resources.
Simply put, recycling helps sustain the environment. We have been active participants in EPA’s WasteWise program, which supports and assists businesses in working toward eliminating waste disposal costs. In FY 2011, we recycled over 215,000 tons of material. This reduced our carbon footprint, and more importantly, kept these recyclables out of landfills.
We have put significant effort into improving our recycling, and believe we have developed a long-term sustainable recycling business model for our organization.
The next several years will prove very challenging as mail volume continues to drop and our network, which underpins our recycling efforts, undergoes consolidation and re-alignment. In meeting this challenge, we will make the necessary adjustments to our recycling business model to stay on track.
We established a zero waste proof of concept over the last several years and set an overall target for reducing our waste. Our approach is to focus on efforts to reduce, reuse and recycle our waste.
Reduce and re-use
A large component of our waste stream is Standard Mail bulk-priced mail pieces, such as printed matter, flyers, circulars and advertising that can’t be forwarded or returned.
Reducing the amount of undeliverable Standard Mail that enters our network is key, and in 2008 USPS created the “Move Update” standard, which requires large mailers to more frequently match their address records with USPS change-of-address records. We extended “Move Update” to Standard Mail, which has further decreased the amount of undeliverable mail entering the system — another important factor in reducing overall waste generation.
Mail transport equipment. Sorting and moving mail requires an array of rolling equipment, pallets, containers and trays all commonly referred to as mail transport equipment, or MTE. The containers we use are designed for durability and extending their life even longer can reduce replacement and waste disposal costs.
We have established guidelines to make better re-use of our mail transportation equipment at Post Offices and processing centers. To redistribute, repair and replace our MTE, the Postal Service operates a network of mail transportation equipment service centers across the country.
In FY 2011, our service centers recycled over 5,000 tons of MTE that could not be repaired or reused, resulting in $1.7 million in recycling revenue.
Recycling and value-based contracting — reverse logistics
By using our distribution network in new ways, such as reverse logistics, we can increase recycling tonnage through economies of scale.
We can use value-based recycling contracts that include revenue sharing, along with performance tracking and reporting.
This is central to the Postal Service sustainability mission. We know that if it isn’t measured, it isn’t managed. To reduce costs and increase revenue, we backhaul recyclables such as mixed paper from local Postal Offices during daily return trips to our distribution centers.
This allows facilities that aren’t geographically near each other to cost-effectively participate in large-scale recycling. At the same time, it avoids solid-waste disposal costs and landfilling.
Also, by using our existing transportation network, we avoid fees from recycling vendors who would make costly stops at each local office. In FY 2011, more than 12,000 facilities participated in the backhaul recycling program, recycling more than 215,000 tons of mixed paper, cardboard, plastic and scrap metal — and earning $24.4 million in recycling revenue.
We also encourage customers to recycle by asking them to discard unwanted mail in Post Office lobby recycling bins, instead of our trash cans. Our “Read, Respond and Recycle” mail lobby campaign was launched in 2009. More than 10,000 locations now offer customers lobby mail recycling. This effort continues to reduce waste being sent to landfills.
Regulated waste management and recycling. We have been active in reducing and better managing regulated wastes such as electronic waste or e-waste, and universal waste (i.e., batteries), through value-based recycling contracting services and pollution prevention strategies. These approaches not only reduce risk, but also drive efficiencies that benefit our bottom line. By continuous efforts to improve these contracting tools, we are starting to see results.
Electronic waste. We participate in a federal working group sponsored by the Office of the Federal Environmental Executive and have established e-waste stewardship practices.
E-waste may contain heavy metals like lead, cadmium and mercury that are harmful to human health and the environment. To properly manage e-waste, we developed three core principles: secure data destruction, recycle and reuse, and avoid landfill waste.
A centerpiece of our effort has been to use our existing transportation network to centralize collection of e-waste. Using secure mail transport containers, we ship e-waste using regular equipment return routes from processing centers to our materials distribution center in Topeka, KS.
This allows us to consolidate e-waste from around the country. By taking advantage of economies of scale, we have been able to participate in no cost e-waste collection and revenue-sharing contract partnerships. In FY 2011, our Topeka materials distribution center recycled over 700 tons of e-waste, resulting in $345,000 in revenue sharing.
Lithium ion batteries. The Postal Service awarded a revenue-sharing contract for recycling lithium ion batteries used for our Intelligent Mail scanning devices.
More than 350,000 of these handheld devices have been widely deployed throughout USPS to capture and share information about each mail piece as it moves through our system. Each lithium ion battery is rechargeable and has a two-year life span.
We expanded this effort to include all spent lithium ion batteries used in laptop computers, power tools, cameras, two-way radios and other devices. By using our network, the Postal Service has increased recycling of these batteries from 1,200 pounds in 2010 to almost 10,000 pounds in 2011, resulting in more than $2,500 in revenue sharing.
Tritium exit signs. USPS has been actively replacing tritium signs throughout our network. Although tritium exit signs pose little or no threat to public health, the Nuclear Regulatory Commission requires proper recordkeeping and disposal of all radioactive materials. Our reclamation contract has been active since 2009 and has resulted in recycling several hundred of these signs within our organization. Learn more about NRC tritium exit sign disposal at http://www.nrc.gov/reading-rm/doc-collections/fact-sheets/fs-tritium.html.