Hub Labels Wins a 2020 FTA Sustainability Excellence Award

In 2018, Hub Labels of Hagerstown, MD was sending 769,430 pounds of waste to local landfills. The company knew it wanted to change this practice—but how?

The printer’s sustainability journey actually began more than a decade ago. In that time, it has implemented a number of processes, with the goal to recycle as much waste as possible. It recycles everything from steel, aluminum, paper, electronics and batteries, to foil, shrink wrap, plastic buckets and boxes, plate material, and more. At the beginning of 2019, the company made a goal to become completely landfill free.

All photos courtesy of Hub Labels

The effort paid off, as the company has completely eliminated landfill waste since October 2019, utilizing a system in which all waste is used to produce a safe alternative fuel source instead. For its landfill-free initiative, Hub Labels has won the Sustainability Programs category in the 2020 FTA Sustainability Excellence Award competition.

Big & Small Changes

“We didn’t force ourselves to completely transition to be landfill free overnight,” commented Chad Aumick, vice president of finance at Hub Labels. “It’s been a long haul, but we never lost sight of our goal to become landfill free. At Hub, we understand that our efforts will affect generations to come.”

Aumick says Hub Labels strives to identify big and small sustainability projects that help the company achieve its goals of improving the planet and its community. Other such initiatives have included switching to LED lighting and linerless labels.

A “waste sucker” at Hub Labels. Found on the majority of the company’s presses, it takes the trim and channel waste from the pressrun and feeds it to a shredder, which is then taken to a waste energy plant.

In addition, Hub Labels decided to combat the negative impact of plastics by looking for an alternative solution to minimize its use of bubble wrap. During a visit to a trade show, employees saw a machine—the HSM ProfiPack—that would reduce bubble wrap consumption and at the same time, allow the company to reuse and recycle its corrugated boxes. The ProfiPack does this by taking corrugated boxes and “puncturing” the cardboard in several locations to create a recycled wrapping material.

“Now, instead of purchasing more plastic, the Hub team reuses the corrugated cardboard received from shipments and repurposes it to provide protection for the labels being shipping out,” notes Aumick.

Eliminating Waste

Hub Labels’ biggest challenge when going landfill free was finding a solution for its municipal waste, or a cost-effective approach to recycling its pressure-sensitive material. The only option for recycling these was to transport them a few hours away. As a result, all the company’s municipal waste was still being sent to the local landfill.

In 2019, Hub Labels partnered with West Virginia-based Entsorga, which utilizes the HEBioT mechanical biological treatment system for processing solid waste. The system recovers bio-mass, plastics and other carbon-based materials from the mixed municipal solid waste stream and converts them into a safe alternative fuel source. This fuel source is then used to fuel the local cement plant located only a few miles down the road. Since partnering with Entsorga, Hub Labels says it has successfully eliminated its waste from going to the landfill.

A cardboard shredder. Hub Labels uses the cardboard from goods delivered into the plant and punctures the holes as shown. The company then utilizes the punctured cardboard as dunnage in the boxes it sends its labels in for protection, instead of using an air bubble.

The printer says it has found two main benefits from its sustainability initiative. One is a new home for the thick corrugated cores that labels come on. Traditionally, the company’s customers had to figure out how to deal with these hard-to-grind, bulky materials; now, they go into the mix to make a clean fuel to replace coal.

The second is a streamlined disposal process. Before, Hub Labels had three dumpsters for multiple waste streams; now, it has one dumpster that its longtime hauler, Republic Services, picks up and ships to Entsorga. Each haul is 8.5 tons to 10 tons of waste.

“Winning this award puts an exclamation point on all the hard work that the entire Hub team has put forth for more than 10 years on this journey. This was far from an effort of just one, but rather an entire team coming together for a great cause,” says Aumick. “We would be glad to share the information regarding our journey and encourage others to contact us to discuss what steps we put in place to make the initiatives become reality.”

Recycle bins show the various types of different recycling done by Hub Labels.

Judges React

Sustainability Excellence Awards judges were impressed by Hub Labels initiatives and how it achieved its goal to eliminate landfill use.

“This is an innovative thinking and investment to reduce bubble wrap,” says Sustainability Excellence Award judge Jean Engelke.

“Hub Labels is a great example of a company striving to be landfill free,” adds Sustainability Excellence Award judge Jason Alcaraz of Flint Group. “In all their efforts to do so, they have not only taken the initiative company wide and made it known, but have made it readily available for their employees to participate and contribute to their efforts by strategically placing bins within their facility.”