HWTR Pollution Prevention

My Watershed

A Large Manufacturer Becomes a Small Waste Generator

Over 18 years, Crown Beverage Packaging reduces its dangerous waste by 99.9 percent

The Company
Crown Beverage Packaging, Inc. manufactures nearly 5 million cans per day at its facility in Olympia. During busy seasons, tens of millions of 12-ounce aluminum cans destined for soda, beer, or other beverage makers are stacked in massive towers inside its warehouse.

With 115 employees and 144,000 feet of manufacturing space running around the clock, there’s nothing small about Crown. Nothing, that is, except its hazardous waste generation.

When Washington State implemented its pollution prevention planning law in the early 1990s, Crown qualified as a large quantity generator of dangerous waste. The company produced 382,760 pounds of dangerous waste per year, including oil mixed with water, solvents, and paint. In the years since, Crown has made incredible progress in reducing its use of hazardous chemicals and generation of dangerous waste, while also becoming more efficient in energy and water use.

Photo: aluminum cans being processed.  
Crown's 115 employees produce nearly five million
beverage cans a day.
  A giant roll of aluminum in the can-making process.

The facility passed a milestone in 2013 when its generation of dangerous waste dropped below 220 pounds a month, meaning this large manufacturer officially qualified as a small quantity generator. In fact, for all of 2013, Crown produced a total of 412 pounds of dangerous waste – a drop of 99.9 percent over the past 18 years.

How They Did It
Crown’s success didn’t come from a technological leap or a single, huge investment, but rather from finding a string of small improvements that added up over time. In fact, Crown was one of Ecology’s first featured Pollution Prevention success stories after the company cut dangerous waste by 70 percent between 2001 and 2006. In the years since, Crown has continued to make steady progress.

For example, the company invested in a distiller for the isopropyl alcohol used to clean its can printers, allowing the alcohol to be reused. Crown reformulated its ink to reduce volatile organic compounds and installed high efficiency mats in the beverage oven, where printed cans are cured. The maintenance staff switched to using an ultrasonic cleaner for air filters in place of spraying them down with brake cleaner.

Step by step, the company’s dangerous waste shrank.

“We’re trying to make our footprint as small as we can,” said Mark Kirschenheiter, plant engineer for Crown’s Lacey facility.

One significant improvement came simply from better understanding the waste Crown was generating: Two bioassay tests by outside laboratories determined that some of the material Crown was paying to dispose of as hazardous waste was, in fact, non-hazardous.

Another reduction came from contracting with an outside supplier to provide the sulfuric acid Crown used to regenerate its deionized water system. Although this change did not actually eliminate the use of the chemical, it did remove a safety risk from the plant, saved money and water, and allowed the acid to be treated more efficiently offsite.

Many suggestions have come from line employees who see opportunities for greater efficiency.

Photo: Stacks and stacks of beverage cans in a warehouse.
Tens of millions of soda and beer cans are stacked
and ready for delivery at Crown's Olympia facility.

“That’s what it takes to be successful – you have to be willing to listen,” Kirschenheiter said. “It’s not just one person in this plant that does pollution prevention. Everyone is on the team.”

How Ecology Helped
Ecology’s pollution prevention staff offered advice and assistance to Crown at several steps along the way, including suggestions to reduce the facility’s chemical use and initiating an energy audit.

That audit, which was conducted by the Washington State University Extension Energy program and the University of Washington Industrial Assessment program, resulted in improvements that save the company $113,300 a year in electricity and natural gas.

Those and other efficiency measures have helped Crown reduce its water use by more than 2.5 million gallons a year and reduced its generation of greenhouse gases by 604 metric tons a year.

And Crown hasn’t stopped improving. Kirschenheiter is switching to water-based parts washers to clean machine parts in place of petroleum solvents and considering replacing the facility’s lights with energy-efficient LEDs.

“I’ve been in this business for 40 years,” Kirschenheiter said. “I’ve been in a lot of can plants and this one is probably the cleanest and nicest I’ve been in. It’s a testament to these guys out here and how much pride they take in their work.”

Five tips to reduce dangerous waste

  1. Review waste designations to ensure you're not over- or under-designating.
  2. Recycle solvents either in-house or with a third party. Ask your waste hauler for recycling credits to reduce Hazardous Waste Planning Fees.
  3. Identify toxic chemicals and find less toxic substitutes.
  4. Adjust operations to use less material and still get the job done.
  5. Use water-based instead of petroleum-based cleaners.

To consult with Ecology’s Pollution Prevention experts about reducing waste at your Washington business, contact your regional office.