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Waste not: Nothing goes to waste at Toyota's Buffalo plant

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There's no doubt that the Toyota Motor Manufacturing, West Virginia Inc. plant in Putnam County has had a significant impact on the economy of West Virginia, with its $1.3 billion investment in the state and its 1,300 employees earning a paycheck. The plant has an annual payroll of $127.7 million including benefits.

But that is just the introduction to the Toyota story, as it pertains to the Mountain State.

Just as impressive as its bottom line is the way the Buffalo plant has been a good neighbor, environmentally and philanthropically. 

Shawn Daly, general manager of manufacturing at Toyota Motor Manufacturing, West Virginia Inc. spoke to a group of students from Ripley Middle School and Ravenswood Middle School students during the West Virginia Construction and Design Expo at the Charleston Civic Center March 27.

At the presentation, Daly revealed that 34 million pounds of steel, aluminum, plastics, cardboard, wood and used oil are recycled by the Toyota plant in Putnam County each year.

"That's our commitment to being a good corporate citizen," said Daly. "I'm a Boy Scout leader also, and we teach, ‘Leave no trace' camping.

"That's basically the way we work at Toyota in West Virginia. Everyone has some sort of impact on the environment. We keep working to reduce that."

The plant has played a large role on the state's economy ever since the first engine rolled off a line in Buffalo in 1998.

"We tell everyone that Toyota may be great for West Virginia, but West Virginia has also been great for Toyota," Daly said. "So it's been a winning partnership from the beginning.

"We work to give back to the community, and we've benefited so much from it. 

"A lot of the credit goes to the great people that we have working (at the plant). We recognize that. Toyota is a collection of very talented people. We do a good job of getting everyone's best ideas and putting them into action, and building on the results." 

The plant has celebrated its growth several times in the past 16 years. It just made its eighth expansion announcement, according to Sandy Maynard, TMMWV spokesperson. In November, another transmission line will be in production.

The plant uses less than half of its property currently, so there's room for further expansion.

Achieving zero landfill is rare in any industry, especially manufacturing.

"I believe that we were the first Toyota facility to achieve it in North America," Daly said. "And I believe we were the second in the industry. We are very open to benchmarking with other strong organizations. 

"For example, we benchmark safety with DuPont because they are very, very good. We've benchmarked contamination reduction which is very important in our transmissions with Intel and General Foods."

Toyota has not hesitated to share what it's done with other auto manufacturers.

"We benchmark automotive manufacturing with all of our competitors," Daly said. "The rule is that we only talk about what we're doing currently. We don't talk about what we're going to do in the future. 

"We believe that we can share ideas internally and turn them into action faster than the competition, so we don't really worry about what the competition sees. As we've benchmarked out environmental activity, at first some other companies didn't see the value. But everyone appreciates being involved in environmental improvement. Everyone wants to make the world a better place."

Flying discs, rain water

Plastic waste at the plant has become quite the industry in itself.

Some of the plastic waste is sent to the Jackson County Developmental Center. Staff there sorts it and sells it. 

Mason County-based PTI Inc. buys plastic from JCDC and molds flying discs. Toyota then buys the discs and gives them to children at various schools and community events.

The plastic sales are profit for JCDC.

"It's a wonderful relationship," said Daly. "We love it. It's great on all sides.

"(JCDC) provides a very important and necessary service to us. We have something of value for them, but it has to be sorted through. They sort through it and keep the value. Of course, we don't want to be cluttering up landfills with the plastics. It's a win-win."

The center sells the material by the type of plastic. There's a high demand for what it provides. Some of the plastic waste is sold to companies that make spacers for guardrails; the plant also ships its scrap metal to companies, including one that creates bricks from grinding swarf — small metal shavings.

Even a cloudy, stormy day isn't a bad thing in Buffalo.

Rainwater also is collected and used in lawn maintenance on the plant property. Every inch of rainwater collected can be used for three weeks of lawn care.

"The lawn needs to be watered," Daly said. "We're required to store rain water and we have storm retention ponds and it has to be held there so you don't erode the river bank. 

"We just put in pumps and pumped water from the storm water retention ponds to the sprinklers to save a million gallons a year."

Even the cafeteria waste at the Buffalo plant serves a purpose. It is sent to Covanta Indianapolis. According to its website, Covanta can process 2,175 tons-per-day of solid waste that produces no less than 4,500 pounds of steam sold per ton. Citizens Thermal Energy then purchases the steam to power the downtown Indianapolis heating loop. The loop includes nearly all downtown businesses, as well as Purdue University's Indianapolis campus, and Eli Lilly, the area's largest pharmaceutical manufacturer.

The plant is definitely "all-in" when it comes to going green, even in the administrative offices.

"Several years ago, they took all of our trash baskets away from our desks, because we have recycle centers now," said Maynard. "We take any trash to the appropriate area and deposit it at the end of the day. We have paper, plastic and cans recycling. 

"I don't even think anything about it now. It's our commitment. That's the type of team members we have."

Giving back

Volunteerism is another way Toyota impacts the state.

"It's one of the things that I'm most proud of," said Maynard. "We have a volunteer recognition program. Our team members volunteer at nonprofit organizations. They may be a coach of a ball team or a scout leader, for example. For that organization, we'll donate $250."

Maynard said last year, Toyota had more than 11,000 hours worked by 71 team members, on their own time.

"We also participated in 55 community events, where we reached out to about 19,000 people," she said. "That's pretty significant."

An annual company fundraiser dinner that benefits Special Olympics typically raises $40,000 or more.

"To be a part of that, it makes us really proud," Maynard said.