The byproducts and waste coming out of Grifols’ Clayton plant lead diverse and interesting lives, the vast majority of which have nothing to do with a landfill.
Grifols, the Spanish blood-plasma giant and the largest private employer in Johnston County, produces waste on an astronomical level, but only a small fraction can really be called waste. From banana peels in the cafeteria to hundreds of thousands of tons of chemical leftovers, Grifols is recycling or finding other uses for 93 percent of its waste. The company wants to raise that percentage even further by the end of the year.
“What we’re trying to do as a company, one of our goals is zero waste going to the landfills,” said David Graham, a biologist with Grifols in Clayton. “Part of that is educating our employees on what can go in the trash, what can be recycled. You know, ‘hey, these things should have been recycled, let’s get better.’... By the fourth quart of this year, we want to get to that goal of zero waste in the landfills. Last year we were at 93 percent. We’re almost there.”
Last week, Grifols employees tipped over a 25-foot dumpster and rummaged through its contents, looking for things that were indiscriminately headed for a lifetime in the earth but could be something else. The company does its annual “dumpster dive” every March, separating materials into single-stream recycling and actual garbage.
Instead of the Wake or Johnston County landfill, most of Grifols’ waste ends up at a Zebulon hog farm turned recycling center. The two main byproducts Grifols has are polyethylene glycol, a liquid, and diatomatious earth, a powder that comes from the company’s filtering process. Both of those, on a scale of hundreds of thousands of tons per month, make their way to the aptly named Full Circle Recycling in Zebulon, where they enter an anaerobic digestor.
“The polyethylene glycol goes out in tankers, and they can run that through their digester,” Graham said. “A methane is produced, and they use that to heat their greenhouses for cucumbers and tomatoes. ... It used to go for solidification in a landfill, so that’s a large volume and weight that years ago would have counted towards landfill material but is now part of that 90 percent range.”
The diatomatious earth comes from pads Grifols uses as blood-plasma filters. It used to be incinerated as medical waste, Graham said, but Grifols convinced the state that the blood had already been screened for diseases before it made it to them. Now, at the Zebulon recycling center, the powder becomes a liquid that fertilizes hay and alfalfa fields.
“The cost was unbelievable compared to what we pay now,” Graham said. “It’s a big cost savings in regards to that, but it was more environmental, trying to get to that zero waste, what can we do better.”
Together, the polyethylene glycol and diatomatious earth add up to more than a million pounds of waste each month. Grifols also sends organic material to a composting company and sends 15,000 pounds worth of single-use gowns and coverings from its labs and production facilities back to the manufacturer. It also sends waste to an energy company that uses it to fuel power plants. All of that counts in the company’s 93 percent.