Hundreds of cardboard boxes are compacted together creating a large block of cardboard weighing upwards of 1,000 pounds.

Energy Absorption Systems, LLC in Pell City has saved over $136,000 in the past eight months by doing what several in the company called “a lot of common sense.” A simple recycling program was started last May to stop sending as much waste to the landfills. The results have been impressive.

Founded in 1969 by Philip E. Rollhaus, Jr. and associates, based out of Chicago, Illinois, Energy Absorption Systems, LLC “grew out of public concern for safer highways and the federal government’s interest in protecting motorists from hazards on the nation’s roadways,” their website reads. “Since then, Energy Absorption Systems, Inc. has been aggressive in the research and development of more efficient energy-absorbing materials and technology. Today, the company offers a variety of crash cushions that utilize energy absorbing materials, including sand, aluminum cells, elastomeric cylinders and proprietary, highly efficient steel and foam cartridges.”

Along with their Chicago headquarters and Pell City manufacturing facility, Energy Absorption also has a research and development lab and testing facility in Rocklin, California. They specialize in the design manufacture and marketing of highway crash cushions and other highway safety devices. “These products have helped save more than 25,000 lives on world roadways. Energy currently has products in use in all 50 states in the United States and 57 countries,” the website adds.

The recycling program is evident inside each office where a small blue recycling bin is located. These containers are dumped into larger ones when they are full. Wooden pallets, different kinds of plastics, cardboard and metals are all recycled. As one example, hundreds of cardboard boxes are compacted together before being sent off creating a large block of cardboard weighing upwards of 1,000 pounds. Forklifts handle this type of heavy lifting after the compactor finishes.

The company is now able to go much longer between landfill dumps. Energy Absorption was hoping for $20,000 of savings and they are now over $130,000. “One of our compactors is used for cardboard and a newer one is used for plastics. We don’t get paid for some of this, but at least it stays out of the landfill,” Energy Absorption Manufacturing Engineer Sam Stanley noted.

Employees bring plastic bottles and magazines from home, contributing to the company’s efforts. “We separate the different grades of plastic and cardboard. Heavy cardboard doesn’t compact as well because of the large amount of glue in it,” Manufacturing Associate Ray Campbell said. Every single ounce is recorded and tracked, largely by Campbell.

Stanley is interested in getting the area schools on a similar program. “Ninety percent of their waste is probably paper. I’d love to see every classroom have a blue recycling bin. It would save them so much money from having to put their trash in a landfill,” Stanley said.

“It’s been an amazing program that has exceeded expectations. I have a book where I track additional costs, the weight of pallets and what was picked up. It’s something that helps the environment and helps our company too. It’s a win-win,” Campbell said.

Plastic trimmings are recycled into fresh plastic pellets. Energy absorption receives a small payment for this plastic. A machine pulverizes the wooden pallets and a magnet collects all the discarded nails from the pallet. “We used to put the pallets in a 60-yard roll-off dumpster and take two loads per week to the landfill. We’re not taking any now,” Stanley said.

Jeff Deason, Safety/LEAN coordinator, helped put the program together. “We gathered a group to brainstorm on improving a recycling program. It’s a really good program that we tweaked a little bit and started last May. We’ve recycled everything; cardboard, shrink-wrap, but pallets are our big saver,” Deason said.

Cardboard barrels with steel bands are commonly used at Energy Absorption. Previously thrown away, these barrels are now used to ship items to customers. Metal shavings and similar items have always gone to a steel processing plant. Money is received for the shavings and the plastic trimmings, but not the pallet wood or the plastic bottles.

The pallets come in with products from the vendor. They were normally placed in the 60-yard dumpster and was no standard process. They are now placed out of the way and if someone needs one they use it. There is a reduction of the money used to buy pallets by simply placing pallets in a better place.

“As soon as we got rolling with this, I had the big dumpster hauled off so it wasn’t a temptation,” Stanley said. “The thing is…it’s so easy. It’s a lot of common sense that fell into place,” Deason acknowledged.

“Everyone’s really gotten behind this program. It’s been a learning process and it makes people feel good to be a part of recycling,” Stanley said.


* An eight-month review of Energy Absorption’s waste management savings includes:

- Compactor dumps saved from recycling = $17,385.93

- Wood dumps = $20,964.80

- Gaylord box savings = $4,925

- Pallets savings = $81,048

- 2 x 4 x 42 savings = $3,840

- Small parts box savings = $7,265

- Barrel savings = $750.58

Total eight month savings = $136, 179.31

Recycling weights saved from landfill (pounds)

- Scrap wood = 68,850

- TMA paper = 1,768

- Plastic bottles = 782

- Cardboard = 32,591

- Plastic wrap = 4,434

- Heavy paper = 4,762

- Scrap pallets = 52,464

- Office paper = 7,247

- Magazines = 2,807

Total eight months = 175,707 (this equals 88 dumps at 221.67 each or $19,506.96)

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