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In 2007, the Del Monte Foods Milk-Bone factory in Buffalo produced 549 tons of waste, which all piled into landfills.

The factory has since cut the amount of waste by more than half, and diverted all of it from landfills, a first for a Del Monte company.

Del Monte awarded the Buffalo factory with its inaugural Sustainability Excellence and Education award because of the sole manufacturer of Milk-Bones’ “excellence in environmental sustainability and employee education,” according to the company.

It joins other factories across the Buffalo Niagara region and the nation realizing the economic benefits of environmental policies.

Few local companies have reached the zero-waste-to-landfill level, said Benjamin Rand, the president of Insyte Consulting, a nonprofit manufacturing and technology consultant. But Rand said many companies in the area are “on that trip” and reaching closer to the level zero benchmark, which he described as a “higher bar and greater challenge.”

Greg Pastore, the general manager of the Milk-Bone factory, cited the facility’s accomplishment as a “team effort” of the plant’s 230 employees, who help pump out about 225 million pounds of dog biscuits per year.

The Buffalo factory sends cardboard, wooden pallets and scrap metal to be recycled and the byproducts that can’t be reused are sent to Covanta Energy in Niagara Falls, where they’re incinerated to generate steam energy for manufacturers and electricity for Western New York.

The use of incinerators to attain “no landfill” status by companies is a matter of debate among environmentalists, who question whether the impact of burning is better than sending waste to a landfill.

Mike Jackson, the Milk-Bone facility’s distribution supervisor, said that while Milk-Bone production continues to increase, the plant’s waste is decreasing annually as the plant finds new ways to recycle.

The factory also takes the profits made from recycling and donates them back into the local community, Pastore added.

“Waste is a design problem,” said Andrew Goldstein, a solid waste and recycling consultant. The former recycling coordinator for the City of Buffalo pointed out that companies creating sustainability models makes more fiscal sense and that the byproducts from factories “should be considered resources.”

The GM Components Holding in Lockport, which announced its no-landfill status in November, saw an increase in revenue of about $3.7 million before 2012 ended because of the immense amount of plastic, metal, cardboard and oil it was able to recycle.

A job-producing industry revolves around recycling, and only a few jobs are created when waste is sent to landfills, Goldstein added.

Goldstein doesn’t think the focus necessarily has to be on “zero waste to landfill” and added, “It’s really just minimizing waste that’s important.”

Companies such as Buffalo’s McCullagh Coffee are conscious of their environmental impact, according to Jeffery Oliver, sales and product manager of the company’s Ecoverde brand.

Ecoverde is sold in 100 percent compostable packaging and the company even has a “fleet of energy-efficient trucks” to minimize its carbon footprint, Oliver said. McCullagh supplies its coffee to Staples and Walmart, two chains that Oliver said seek out products made by environmentally conscious companies.

The coffee producer sends off its leftover grounds to be used in local compost, and they’re working to figure out how to reuse a type of foil found in their cheaper packaging that’s not recyclable, Oliver added.

“We’re not at zero yet,” Oliver said. “But we’re certainly closer.”

He said businesses moving toward more sustainable models is “a very strong trend” and that companies are expected to readily demonstrate their abilities to recycle and cut waste.

The business sector’s environmental responsibility is the subject of an ongoing conversation and there is the potential for a “sustainability roundtable” in Buffalo, according to Oliver and Goldstein. Goldstein said it’s still preliminary but he, and others, are working with the Erie County Department of Environment & Planning to make it a reality.

The goal of the roundtable would be to get businesses together so they can learn from each other, Goldstein said.

Del Monte, which operates 17 U.S. production facilities and six distributing centers, recognized its California and Minnesota plants for achieving sustainable initiatives, too. Each internally awarded plant was given a plaque and $1,000 to donate to a charity of its choice.

Del Monte purchased Milk-Bone in 2006 from Kraft Global Inc., and the Milk-Bone brand celebrated its 100-year anniversary in 2008.

email: sdinatale@buffnews.com