Master Lock Discovers that the Smallest Parts Can Make the Biggest Difference

In recycling, even the smallest pieces can produce big results.

At Master Lock, a proactive team and a creative approach were the keys to implementing a new program for recycling small plastic parts that has resulted in recycling 10.5 tons of polyethylene in a twelve-month period. As a leading company in combination padlocks and security products, Master Lock was not new to using recycled materials. In fact, several of the company’s padlocks have been awarded recycled-content validations for containing at least 34% of recycled materials. 

It was when plastic scraps from the manufacturing process captured the attention of the company’s Environmental Department that a new recycling idea started to take shape. Annette Jakubiak, Master Lock’s environmental coordinator, explains how it all started.

Identifying an Opportunity to Make a Difference
“I repeatedly observed that small plastic parts were falling out around our trash compactor,” said Jakubiak. “We use a lot of plastic. I wanted to keep the area clean and prevent                                  
 these pieces from getting into the storm drains.”

Once Jakubiak identified the potential to recycle the plastic, the environmental team took on the challenge of evaluating how much was being discarded and determining what to do with it. 

Putting a Process in Place
“The biggest challenge was determining how much plastic waste we were generating because recycling facilities wanted known and significant volumes.  We weren’t sure we had enough for recycling,” said Jakubiak. “We also had to figure out how to gather and classify the different types of discarded plastic, which is comprised of machine purge, runners, unused regrind, and off-spec parts. Lastly, we had to find space to store the parts and determine a shipment method.”

The team tapped into several newly-hired plastics operators with previous plastic recycling experience to help find a solution. 

First, they calculated the amount of spare plastic and found the right contractor for a recycling program. Once logistics for storage and shipping were in place, the team was ready to roll-out the collection process and get everyone involved in the project. 

Raising Awareness
To let employees know about the program and promote participation, “NO PE” (for no polyethylene) signs were placed on all garbage bins.  Equipment running polyethylene was labeled with a sign indicating that the plastic waste from that machine was to be recycled.  To classify the discarded plastic, the engineering department developed a floor plan to organize the different types of plastic into color-coded containers for recycling.  Another creative solution that the team came up with was to use empty palette-sized containers known as Gaylord containers -- which originally contained the raw materials for manufacturing -- for the collection and shipping.  

In addition to reducing 10.5 tons of polyethylene waste, this recycling program has reduced Master Lock’s solid waste hauling and waste tonnage fees, their liability for any parts remaining intact after disposal and, of course, their overall impact on the land.