Made in Michiana: Jayco

By: Frank Waugh Email
By: Frank Waugh Email

Recycling is far from a new concept, but can you imagine recycling everything? That's the goal of one business in Middleburry.

“Jayco as a company has been recycling since 1989, and it is going on today,” says the Continuous Improvement Manager at Jayco Jeff Stauffer.

Today the effort has been kicked into high gear with the ambitious goal of being landfill free by 2015.

“As of last year Jayco started on a zero waste initiative, what that means is zero waste to landfill,” says Stauffer. “We are trying to recycle all the waste that is produced daily on the production line.”

The work starts on the line, where skillful hands build campers and eyes are on the lookout for every piece of recyclable material.

“We recycle cardboard, all of our paper products, our plastic products, fabrics, upholstery fabrics, rubber roof, our vinyl flooring, all our plastics we receive from our vendors like plastic spools, polypropylene, ABS, the multitude of the plastics that are out there,” explains Stauffer. “Everything that is plastic is recycled.”

From the assembly line, containers are loaded and trucked to the recycling center.

A large baler, compresses waste into cubes that top the scales at more than 2,000 pounds while a new piece of equipment takes care of light but pesky Styrofoam.

“It is very important in the reduction of weight, Styrofoam is light as a product to try and ship a load of regular poly styrene it is not economical it is not feasible,” says Stauffer. “So what this machine does, it breaks it down and compresses it. It is a 90 to 1 reduction in the volume of the material that we have. We place the stuff into a box, and each box weighs about 1,200 pounds so those boxes are then loaded onto a truck and you can accumulate a 40,000 pound load in a hurry so it saves on our cost for shipping.”

In 2011, the average unit here at Jayco produced about 188 pounds of waste. Today that number down to 162, and the plan, is to go down from there.

“As of 2011 Jayco is currently recycling 75 percent of our overall waste that is produced,” says Stauffer. “By the end of the year of 2012, we expect to be somewhere in the 83-85 percent complete.”

“I have been real happy with the progress,” says Wilbur Bontrager Jayco’s Chairman and CEO. “We started out with some pilot plants and have been phasing our way through the organization and the people have really embraced it. The first plant that we started with, is near zero landfill as we call it, and other plants are taking notice the workers have embraced it. It really, I think not only sends the right messages but also encourages our employees to take some of those practices home when they see what is happening.”

Along with employees, suppliers are also buying in.

“Packaging is a good example,” explains Bontrager. “Whenever possible we try to work with suppliers to reduce packaging, eliminate packaging or have returnable kinds of packaging. Because they deliver to use they go back with space and so we can send reusable, returnable packaging back to them. So we have had a number of suppliers embrace that, there are a lot of other angles to approach that, such as sometimes the redesign of component and so forth. It is all a matter of moving the needle ahead to reduce waste and make more efficient use of products we use, and it has to pay some dividends in the industry at some point in time.”

The sale of the recycled products is profitable, but Wilbur points out it goes beyond that.

“The recycling and sustainability effort has been important,” explains Bontrager. “For many years we recycled a lot of our products and goods. In recent years we have become interested in the sustainability aspect of it and embraced it and decided to expand beyond the recycling efforts that we were doing for a lot of years and chose to make some goals to not only improve our production efficiency our utility usage, and less waste to the landfill which is a goal of ours. That is our major goal currently to become landfill free. We think long term it will pay dividends not only cost wise but it gives employees a sense of not only satisfaction but enhances the working environment. Our customers like it because they can relate to that. After all we build products to out of doors and if we can do a small part to help and preserve that.

Jayco's sustainability push goes beyond recycling. By 2014, they hope to reduce energy usage by 40 percent. They also have plans in place to reclaim and use rainwater runoff from their facilities.

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