High-tech trash

Commercial hazardous waste is a cradle-to-grave issue for the companies that produce it, and incineration and disposal processes must be managed and documented properly.

Ross Environmental Services, a waste management firm, has the daunting task of keeping up with the disposal needs of its customers — large industrial companies with an ever-changing pallet of products and byproducts — all the while maintaining compliance with EPA regulations.

"We have to stay in compliance, but we are focused on improving the operation of the plant," says Maureen M. Cromling, president and CEO of Ross Environmental Services. "We’re always concerned with the combination of those two things, to add values and meet compliance."

There are so many aspects of proper waste management that the only way to do it cost-effectively and efficiently is with the proper use of technology.

"You have to take all these pieces and make them into a system that is integrated," Cromling says. "The storage of data is an important part of the technology. If the data is there but not accessible to the right person at the right time, then you just have technology for technology’s sake."

For Ross, this means all data on every waste shipment must be available to be checked, tracked and evaluated, and it must be accessible to the company’s scientists, engineers, floor personnel, EPA and customers — online and in real time.

In addition to being available at the 1,800 information stations in Ross’ new plant, data is transmitted by handheld scanners connected by radio frequency to a centralized database, allowing waste to be tracked in real time.

"It really allows us to run the operation much more efficiently," Cromling says. "There is a tremendous amount of data that goes into the operation of the plant, and technology allows us to do things on a real-time basis."

But the real challenge doesn’t lie solely in technology upgrades; it’s also in the training and buy-in of the employee base. Cromling says any changes must go beyond increasing efficiency.

"If the technology isn’t applicable or user-friendly it won’t be used in the right way," she says.

With buy-in, training and careful implementation, Ross has seen significant improvements.

Says Cromling, "All of our employees have communicated that the new technology has made it easier to do their jobs." HOW TO REACH: Ross Environmental Services Inc., (440) 366-2000 or www.rossenvironmental.com