Sustainability efforts at the Corning Life Sciences plant in Oneonta, New York, are reducing waste while strengthening an important community partnership.
A recycling project with The Arc Otsego of Oneonta, a nonprofit organization employing adults with developmental disabilities, has helped reduce waste at the plant by nearly 20 percent over just the last three years. Now, more than 98 percent of the plant’s total waste is kept from going to a landfill in part because of the assistance of Arc Otsego employees.
“This is the type of project that makes all of us proud to be a part of Corning, where our operational goals can positively impact our communities and the environment. The Oneonta team has proven that how we do business is just as important as what we achieve,” said Daniel Santamatilde, director, and manufacturing and supply chain operations, Corning Life Sciences.
The plant began its partnership with The Arc Otsego in 2010. Then, Arc Otsego employees sorted scrap from the plant’s production of plastic labware for biomedical research and laboratories and sent it to a third party to be recycled.
Efforts ramped up in 2017, when Corning installed a grinder machine at The Arc Otsego offices in Oneonta, and trained several Arc Otsego employees on regrinding the scrap plastic, which is now returned to the Corning plant for reuse. Material reuse over recycling has significant benefits, including saving time finding recycling outlets, cutting down on transportation and material costs, and reducing storage needs.
The majority of the plant’s plastic waste is now reground and returned to Corning. The remaining scrap that Corning cannot reuse continues to be sent to recyclers outside of the Corning plant, said Steve Swanberry, a senior project engineer and the project manager on the recycling program.
Typically, 10 to 12 Arc Otsego employees sort and grind production waste every weekday, although they’ve sent as many as 22 employees on very busy days, according to Patricia Knuth, executive director of The Arc Otsego.
Employees from The Arc Otsego also operate the plant’s customer recycling program, which allows customers to mail back surplus product, which is sorted and often reground at The Arc office.
"Not only does our partnership with Corning provide individuals with intellectual and other developmental disabilities with an opportunity to be productive workers while learning skills, it also supports the community and environment by keeping solid materials out of the waste stream," Knuth said. "The Arc Otsego appreciates the opportunity to partner with Corning in this important endeavor."
Swanberry said working with employees from The Arc Otsego has been a unique professional opportunity.
"I have been doing project management work off and on for more than 30 years, and projects usually involve equipment or processes – inanimate things," he said. "With The Arc Otsego, I have direct contact with people who are really benefiting from this program at the same time as Corning. It's been one of the most rewarding experiences of my career."