Uncovering Hidden Costs – A Case Study in Trash Can Liners

Hidden Costs

You probably don’t wake up in the morning wondering about the annual trash can liner spend for your facility. Throw the garbage in, take out the trash, hope that it makes it to the final destination without breaking, and wash your hands of it. But here’s a wake-up call: if you’re using too much liner for your applications, you could literally be throwing away thousands of dollars in excess liner costs each year. With the current plastic resin markets hovering just above a dollar a pound, it’s easy to quantify the hidden costs of an over-specified trash bag.

How do you know if you’re using more can liner than you need? Take a walk through your facility and keep a mental note of how much liner hangs over the tops of your waste receptacles. If the liners tend to hang more than 3 to 4 inches over the tops of the containers, not only are you suffering from Unsightly Bag Overhang (UBO), you’re also wasting money and resources. There’s more to it than just overhang – follow the 3 Steps to Finding the Perfect Can Liner to avoid purchasing more product than you need.

Don’t just take our word for it, though. A few years ago, a major industrial manufacturer asked us to help them control hidden costs in their plants. After the initial survey of the facilities, we spotted several instances of UBO. As a result, their can liner program was one of the first areas we looked at as an opportunity to control hidden costs.

What we found was pretty typical in an industrial or commercial environment. The customer associated the effectiveness of their liners with thickness. If the trash bag didn’t feel heavy enough, then the product was immediately rejected, and something thicker was requested. This led to years of purchasing product that was overbuilt for the task, as well as excess plastic in the landfill as a direct expense to the company.

The “thicker is better” rule may have held up in years past, but not today. The technology in plastic resins has evolved, resulting in a strong, flexible film that is light in gauge. Thickness is no longer a measure of performance. In many cases, the film can be down-gauged to further eliminate unneeded plastic.

When we conducted a full survey of the facilities, we found that the most-used container was a 44 gallon round receptacle. The proper size liner for this container is 37″ x 50″, yet the customer had a tendency to use a 38″ x 58″ liner – a full inch wider and eight inches longer than necessary. Also, they generally used liners with a thickness of 2.0 mils, which will hold a dry weight of up to 180 pounds of material. That’s a lot of garbage! But what we actually found in those trash cans was almost always the same thing – coffee cups and newspapers, weighing in at a mere 18 to 21 pounds when the receptacle was ready to be emptied.

Once we had the dirt on their garbage, finding the solution was easy. We replaced the existing liner with that of a reduced size to fit the can more accurately without the overhang of material, and reduced thickness to lower the average case weight, cost, and amount of excess plastic to the landfill.

Savings by the Numbers

  • Total Can Liner Size: 9 inches
    38″ x 58″ to 37″ x 50″
  • Can Liner Thickness: .65 mils
    2.0 mils to 1.35 mils
  • Average Case Weight: 44%
    29.39 lbs to 16.65 lbs
  • Excess Can Liner Plastic: 15,600 lbs per year
    36,000 lbs to 20,400 lbs (based on 1,225 cases per year)

Can Liner Savings by the Numbers

These were significant findings. Just one of their plants alone used 1,225 cases of liners per year, for a total reduction of 15,600 pounds of plastic that was not being used effectively and simply thrown away. Based on the resin market values at the time of service, the reduction in cost was over $15,000 per year for one plant. This manufacturer had 21 plants of similar size, with the same problem in each plant. The total cost reduction certainly turned some heads.

The customer was also able to sleep a little more soundly at night, knowing that they weren’t sending all that excess plastic to the landfill.

Trash bags. Who would’ve thought that a microscopic look at such an un-glamorous product could lead to 6-digit cost savings per year? Our task in every application is to find these hidden issues and bring them to the forefront. What other hidden costs are lurking underneath the surface at your facility?

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Kirsten DeHaai

Director of eCommerce Marketing at HP Products Corporation
Kirsten DeHaai is the Director of eCommerce Marketing for HP Products, a distributor of facility maintenance supplies throughout the Midwest. Kirsten has more than 8 years of experience in eCommerce development, brand management, online marketing and communications.