Making the most of industrial waste

January 19, 2009   by Corinne Lynds

Newalta dares to ask the question: What if waste wasn’t? Focused on providing real solutions to this seemingly massive challenge, the Calgary-based industrial waste management and environmental services company has invested $3 million in a new labpack processing operation that’s improving efficiencies and increasing operator safety.

Located in Toronto, the new operation uses an automated process to safely and efficiently de-pack drums containing small quantities of chemical waste, typically collected from the pharmaceutical, manufacturing and research communities.
The plant has been handling labpacks on a limited scale for a number of years, but the old process needed to be updated in terms of ergonomics, pollution control and efficiencies, explains Roland Colbow, district manager of Newalta in Toronto.

“Labpacking has been around for 20-plus years, universities and other businesses need to get rid of their outdated chemicals, so we bring them back to our location for processing,” says Colbow. “We package them in compatible groups—acids in one drum, bases in a second. All these bottles are packaged in vermiculite packing material so they don’t come into contact with each other.”


Packing and shipping the labpacks is relatively straightforward, but once they arrive at the processing facility, the 45-gallon drums need to be carefully unpacked and sorted.

“Depacking the labpacks gets to be a very repetitive job,” says Colbow. “So part of our upgrade was to look at ways to prevent future injuries.”

The new unpacking stations position the drums at an angle and rotate allowing workers to easily reach inside. “You don’t have to bend down into the drum itself. We vacuum off the packaging materials and that exposes the containers. For anything heavy we use a hoist and place it on a sorting table. It’s a very gentle and simple way too unpack the drums without a lot of strain or sprain,” says Colbow.

Currently two stations process roughly 25 drums per eight-hour shift.

What’s in the drums?

Newalta receives all kinds of expired products from labs, industrial plants and universities that come in five-gallon or smaller pails. And it handles every possible chemical type with the exception of radioactives, pathological explosives and PCBs.

Although ergonomics has played a significant roll in the new process, dealing with many corrosive materials such as acids has also put safety front and centre.

Contents of the drums are placed on sorting tables and loaded into colour-coded totes that are put on a roller conveyor system to an elevator that transports them up to a working platform. This waste then goes through crushers, hand bulking and various other types of equipment that separates the materials and containers.

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