Sears Holdings Corporation (SHC), which operates over 2,600 full-line and specialty retail stores in the United States and Canada under the Sears and Kmart brand formats, is taking significant steps to reduce its waste stream in specific areas of its enterprise. The company’s commitment is reflected in its participation in the EPA’s WasteWise program, which started in 2010.
Sears Automotive Centers is one area where SHC is focused on increasing its diversion of waste from landfill and striving for zero waste. Here, the company has found ways to exceed the requirements for lead-acid battery recycling and anti-freeze recovery, as well as increase the amount of tires recycled and motor oil collected.
Closed-loop battery recycling
Most vehicles have a starting battery that can be recycled if taken to the proper facilities; most states require that these batteries be recycled. As a result, lead-acid batteries are the most highly recycled consumer product, with 96 percent of all battery lead being recycled in North America, according to the EPA. This rate far exceeds the recycling rate for aluminum cans, paper and glass bottles.
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Sears Automotive Centers has participated in this recycling effort and through its $5 rebate program has incentivized customers to return to its locations to recycle lead acid batteries. As a result, 41,000 tons of lead acid batteries have been recycled at Sears Automotive Centers since the inception of the program. However, Sears is taking it one step further and has implemented closed-loop battery-recycling. As a result, Sears recycles nearly 100 percent of the components that make up a battery (lead, plastic, and acid) and reclaims those materials for use in new battery products: The batteries are collected, dismantled and separated; the lead is smelted and then refined in an EPA-permitted facility; the plastic cases and covers are cleaned, ground, extruded and molded into new plastic parts. The typical lead-acid battery sold in a Sears Automotive center contains 70 percent recycled lead and plastic that comes directly from prior Sears batteries. The acid is also recycled and reused through an exclusive, innovative acid reclamation process. Using reclaimed acid in new batteries avoids potentially hazardous acid disposal, conserves ground water use and saves on raw material.
Antifreeze, tires and motor oil
By working with external partners, SHC is able to recover antifreeze through an innovative process that breaks the material down to ethylene glycol for further reuse opportunities. Through its closed-loop antifreeze recycling program, SHC has avoided approximately 26,000 metric tons of greenhouse gas emissions (CO2e). This enables Sears to sell, use, recycle and resell the antifreeze, which is good for both the environment and the bottom line. In addition, SHC recycled approximately 44,000 tons of tires in 2011 (data for 2012 is currently being calculated). Many states require retailers to recycle tires; however, there are no universal guidelines as to what the tires should be recycled into. SHC recycles its tires through a number of methods and uses the resulting materials as crumb rubber, civil engineering materials and mulch, among other things.
For over 25 years, SHC has partnered with Safety-Kleen Systems, Inc., to recycle automotive fluids. In 2012, the partnership recycled over 3,000,000 gallons of used motor oil, over 9,000 55-gallon drums of used oil filters and 550,000 gallons of oily water from on-site oil-water separators. As with other automotive parts, motor oil is required to be recycled by law in most states. Because used motor oil never wears out, it can be recycled, cleaned and used again indefinitely, according to the California Department of Resources Recycling and Recovery. Recycling motor oil keeps it out of the soil, streams, rivers and groundwater. Aside from its automotive centers, SHC is focused on increasing the recycling rate of more mainstream items, such as toner, batteries and cell phones. Sears standardized its printers across SHC stores and entered into a partnership with Lexmark to recover computer toner from Sears full line stores. This has resulted in an excess of 14,000 pounds of material being recycled and represents approximately 30,000 pounds of CO2 equivalent savings.
Through a partnership with Call2Recycle, Sears collects and recycles a significant volume of rechargeable batteries and cell phones. These are then shipped to processing facilities in North America where the elemental metals are extracted and reclaimed. Those metals are then used to manufacture new products, such as batteries, stainless steel and hardware. Since the program launched at Sears in 2000, nearly a million pounds of batteries and cell phones have been diverted from local landfills, including more than 128,000 pounds in 2012. In recognition of this achievement, Sears was recently named one of the top 10 national retailers participating in the Call2Recycle program.
In addition to these actions, SHC is facilitating recycling in other organizations. SHC recently completed a number of programs with retail partners to utilize the recycling infrastructure implemented in current Sears locations and maximize the efficiencies afforded through Sears’ large mall footprint. Where other mall tenants are constrained by space and volume, SHC has offered its services to allow partners to recycle materials by taking advantage of SHC’s reverse logistics and collection procedures.
As seen from these examples, SHC has taken some important steps to decrease its waste to landfill, and plans to continue to do so in the future. Rajan Penkar, SHC’s Senior Vice President and President, Supply Chain, says, “We have a history of collaboration, and by working in conjunction with our business partners, we are able to identify innovative recycling solutions,” said Penkar. “These programs emphasize our commitment to corporate responsibility and sustainability while we continue to pursue initiatives that benefit our associates, members, customers and communities.”