The environmental team at Georgia-Pacific’s Naheola mill in Pennington, Alabama, has big plans to improve sustainability in 2016. The team is actively developing a program to reduce the mill’s on-site landfill contribution by half this year, with the eventual goal of recycling 100 percent of the residual waste generated from the facility’s production processes.
Shawn Williams, Naheola’s Senior Environmental and Compliance Engineer, puts it this way: “Our goal is to ultimately have zero waste go into any landfill.” The plan is to turn the residual waste into a soil amendment. Naheola’s paper making process generates by-products that contain fiber, clay and alkaline materials. As a result, these by-products benefit plant growth.
“What we are doing is actually creating topsoil,” says Bill Davis, the manager of Environmental Safety and Health for the mill. “If we can get the mixture down right it would have amazing applications and could cut the time to grow pine trees to market.”
The mixture he is referring to is a soil amendment made from paper production byproducts such as wood fiber, sludge and ash. In order for that to happen, of course, the team needs to verify that the amendment mixture they’ve created works. Auburn University has agreed to conduct an independent study to help gauge the product’s effectiveness. A team from the school will document and compare the growth of pine and sweet gum trees that receive regular amendment applications. Once it’s been certified as a success, the results can be used to help drive demand for the product.
The project will ultimately lead to a huge cost savings for the mill. “Based on 2015 data, this project will reduce Naheola’s daily landfill volume by 63 percent,” says Williams. “The life of the landfill could be extended from current usage estimates of 13.4 years to 36 years. So it will postpone building a new landfill – at an expected cost of $20 million – by decades.”