Leigh Miller for GlobalAtlanta
The Institute for Sustainable Technology and Development at the Georgia Institute of Technology can provide interns to help companies set up recycling programs and reuse packaging materials and industrial products that are shipped globally, said Leon McGinnis.

Dr. McGinnis, founding director of the Keck Virtual Factory Lab in Georgia Tech’s School of Industrial and Systems Engineering and associate director of the university’s Manufacturing Research Center, works closely with the Institute for Sustainable Technology. He was a speaker during a June 21 conference on the recovery, recycling, remanufacturing and reuse of industrial materials.

“Global logistics by nature is not sustainable. We use containers that are non-reusable. But people in a business have to make the decision to look for sustainable solutions,” he said.

The Institute for Sustainable Technology can provide interns to analyze companies’ product flows and find ways to recycle or reuse packaging or other materials, thereby reducing cost and environmental impact, Dr. McGinnis told GlobalAtlanta during the conference.

The institute recently completed a case study with Ford Motor Co. that helped the firm remanufacture polypropylene containers used for shipping auto parts from China into splash shields for brakes in vehicles.

Through the experiment, which is to be implemented by the end of the year, Ford saw a decrease in freight and packaging costs, maximized its shipping unit capacity, reduced labor strain and improved operator safety, according to one of the corporation’s business planning specialists, Marsialle Arbuckle. He added that the new process eliminated the need for a job category in the production line and boosted the firm’s reputation as being environmentally conscious.

“Global partnering to recycle or reuse materials is hard to do unless you’re a really big company. But companies are beginning to outsource these projects to middleman firms that can be the ‘glue’ in a sustainable supply chain,” Dr. McGinnis said.

For Atlanta companies, whether large or small, developing business processes that utilize sustainable materials and practices is a system-wide challenge, he added.

Companies must first be able to track the physical flows of all their materials through their procurement, logistics, manufacturing and disposal systems, which is a research project interns from the Institute for Sustainable technology can do, Dr. McGinnis said.

Then, companies can begin to develop partnerships with others around the world that use similar packaging or materials, so they can be shared, reusing them as appropriate, he added. The same tactic can be used among multiple manufacturers of certain materials to reduce waste, he said.

The most difficult part of any recycling, reuse or remanufacturing project, however, is the social transition that must take place, both within a company’s culture and among partner firms in the supply chain, said Mr. Arbuckle. Jobs may be eliminated or relocated as a result of a sustainability change, he warned.

But with proper analysis, reusing materials ultimately results in cost savings, as well as fodder for positive publicity campaigns, Dr. McGinnis noted.

Resources on sustainable packaging highlighted at the conference included Transitional Packaging Inc. (www.tranzipit.com), an Atlanta-based company that provides reusable global shipping materials. Tranzipit’s vice president and COO, John Lynch, was a speaker at the conference. The Sustainable Packaging Coalition, an industry group that works to provide packaging solutions for its members (www.sustainablepackaging.org), was also mentioned.

The June 21 conference was organized by ECLIPS (http://eclips.gatech.edu), a multi-disciplinary research program at Georgia Tech focused on expanding sustainability in business production systems.

Visit www.prism.gatech.edu for a complete conference schedule. Or contact Beryl Toktay, associate professor of operations management at Georgia Tech and organizer of the event, at (404) 385-0104 or beril.toktay@mgt.gatech.edu for more information.

Contact Dr. McGinnis at (404) 894-2312 or leon.mcginnis@isye.gatech.edu. Visit www.sustainable.gatech.edu for more information about Georgia Tech’s Institute of Sustainable Technology Development.