Santa Fe Natural Tobacco Achieves Environmental Milestone

Oxford, N.C., facility 100% landfill free

Jamie Morgan

Jamie Morgan

The next step, Morgan said, was finding a way to recycle waste from the cigarette filter-making and packaging processes. It took a couple of years to find a way to recycle those materials. But the solution came in 2012 when SFNTC began a joint project with TerraCycle Inc. to establish cigarette waste brigades where individuals across the country could collect and recycle used cigarette butts, the foil liner inside cigarette packs and other post-consumer cigarette waste. TerraCycle is a leader in developing solutions for hard-to-recycle materials.

"The Cigarette Waste Brigade program has been very successful, with almost 6.5 million pieces of cigarette waste sent to TerraCycle by consumers during the program's first year," Morgan said. "That waste is recycled into plastic pellets that are then used to make new products, such as plastic shipping pallets."

Along with that project, TerraCycle has also been recycling pre-consumer waste, including filter material, foil and other hard-to-recycle materials generated by the manufacturing process, since Dec. 2012. That made the manufacturing process, but not the entire facility, landfill free.

"The final step was finding a way to dispose of miscellaneous break-room and office waste, like snack wrappers, disposable cups, packaging from takeout foods and other types of nonrecyclable waste," Morgan said. "We generate five to seven tons of that waste each month, and we needed to find a way to keep that out of the landfill, too."

Morgan says that the team decided early on that the best way to deal with the remaining waste stream was to turn it into energy.

But that presented yet another problem. "There's no waste-to-energy plant in North Carolina," said Morgan. "I've checked with the state Department of Environment & Natural Resources and with other places and couldn't find one at all. We also had to find a waste-to-energy plant that didn't send the ash from the incinerator to the landfill. And we needed one that could accept the 40-cubic-yard roll-off containers that we compact our waste in."

Working with their local waste vendor, they finally found an affordable solution that met all their requirements.

All of the waste from the Oxford facility that isn't recycled is now shipped twice a month to the U.S. Navy's Norfolk Naval Shipyard in Portsmouth, Va., where it's converted into steam and electricity to help power the shipyard. Some of that energy is sold to the local power company, which uses it to provide power to the public. The ash from the incineration process is used for compost and as a concrete filler material.

In December, SFNTC became the first tobacco company to be awarded the highest level of recognition in North Carolina's Environmental Stewardship Initiative (ESI), which is led by the state's Department of Environment & Natural Resources (DENR).

Organizations selected as N.C. Environmental Stewards undergo a rigorous review by DENR staff and an ESI Advisory Board composed of representatives from large and small businesses, nongovernmental organizations, public agencies, military organizations and academia.

In a letter to SFNTC president Mike Little announcing the recognition, DENR Secretary John Skvarla praised the operation of SFNTC's manufacturing facility in Oxford,

adding, "The board was particularly impressed by the facility's carbon neutral and zero-waste to landfill goals."

"We couldn't have achieved these milestones or earned this high recognition without the efforts and support of our employees at our headquarters in Santa Fe [N.M.], and here at our operations in Oxford," he said. "Their ongoing commitment to environmental preservation is at the heart of how our company performs."

Little said that receiving recognition as an N.C. Steward is an honor held by only a select group of companies, including Daimler Trucks North America, Firestone Fibers & Textiles, Michelin Aircraft Tire Company and Thomas Built Buses.

"These companies have all gone beyond what's required by law to operate sustainably, conserve natural resources and ultimately promote economic growth in North Carolina. We feel honored and proud that our ongoing environmental efforts have earned us a place on this prestigious list," said Little.

Skvarla said that the Oxford facility's "efforts to achieve sustainability goals, commitment to exceeding compliance with environmental regulations, integration of its environmental management system into core business functions, program for communication with the local community and stated goals of a continued diligence toward lessening its environmental impact exemplify the goals of the ESI."