The Iowa Department of Natural Resources runs an assortment of programs aimed at helping your business cut waste, run more efficiently and even sell byproducts you may have seen as waste. 

The small operation run from the Wallace State Office Building — but benefiting from representatives stationed across the state — assisted 6,124 businesses in fiscal ’17. The work touched the lives of 2.9 million Iowans, saved the Iowa economy $12 million, and helped 1,875 communities. 
“We offer financial and technical assistance that improves environmental performance while enhancing Iowa communities and the economy,” said Jennifer Wright, section supervisor in the DNR’s Land Quality Bureau. “We have our hands in a lot of different things, fundamentally with the intent of driving down pollution and waste generation,” she added. The programs largely grew out of the 1987 Iowa Groundwater Protection Act, with some starting in 1990s and early 2000s.

The programs are offered by the Financial and Business Assistance Section, and that’s where we found Wright. She’s in charge of some diverse initiatives that help businesses save energy, streamline operations, and launch efforts that keep stuff out of landfills — composting, for example. She is assisted by colleagues Jennifer Reutzel Vaughan and Tom Anderson and a network of six contractors at community colleges or councils of governments. The services are for all Iowans, businesses included. Those that spend $1 million or more on energy would qualify, too. 

In the Pollution Prevention Intern Program, businesses (and others) pay part of the cost of interns who help assess companies’ pollution and byproducts. The program is nonregulatory and there is no threat of the enforcement branch at DNR getting involved. The interns, all college junior or senior engineering students from Iowa, Wisconsin and elsewhere, spend 12 or 24 weeks at the business, typically in summer and fall.

“We help them reduce their environmental impact,” Reut-
zel Vaughan said. “We can reduce their water and energy use. These aren’t just a white paper. These are detailed ideas that are actionable and implementable.” 

“The feedback we get is (the companies) just don’t have the time to do these things,” Reutzel Vaughan added. “They need somebody who can be onsite for an extended period who has technical training to really analyze and manage these projects and make recommendations.

“The intern program allows companies to take some of those projects — energy or water conservation or whatever — and they apply to our program and they request an engineering intern,” she added.

Reviews among participating companies have been good.

“The intern was able to put a focus on a couple of projects that our core team has had on our priority list,” Kim Hage-
dorn of Principal Financial Group told DNR. “Due to his work, we will be able to properly assess the cost-of-benefit analysis of implementation, including alternative implementation methods for us to consider.” 

Said Sarah Fersdahl of DuPont Industrial Biosciences: “The intern project gave us the resource we needed to work on an improvement project and meet a plant goal and a business sustainability goal.”

Typically there are about a dozen students in the program; the record was 18. 

The interns provide hands-on support and give the business staff time to take care of other tasks. The competitive program gives the interns a paycheck — usually at $12 to $20 per hour — and course credit. The companies pay $6,000 per intern for 12 weeks. 

There usually are more requests than the budget can handle. The program also works with businesses on compliance assistance and environmental management systems support. A series of workshops is offered for a small fee.

Reutzel Vaughan said while the University of Northern Iowa works with small businesses on waste issues, the DNR’s Solid Waste Alternatives Program (SWAP) is aimed at businesses with more than 100 employees, those that report to the federal Toxics Release Inventory (of self-reported emissions) or those with unusually large amounts of waste. 

Since 2001, host companies have saved more than $84.4 million through the intern-aided projects, which help divert waste from landfills, reduce hazardous waste, conserve water and energy, and reduce greenhouse gas emissions.

In 2017, savings included:
   •  $8.7 million in water savings.
   •  $943,000 in special waste costs.
   •  $15.9 million in solid waste costs.
   •  $15 million in hazardous waste disposal.
   •  $22 million in electricity.
The state also operates the Iowa Waste Exchange, which has found a new home for 3.5 million tons of “wastes” that often turned out to be something that could be sold. Or at least disposed of without paying a landfill fee, because another party could use the material. 

The exchange has saved Iowans $86 million in landfill fees and other costs since 2001. 

A landfill alternatives program encourages new efforts to divert plastics, organic food wastes and other materials from landfills. The state offers forgivable loans of zero to 3 percent interest depending on the project. “We’re looking to diversion of wastes from the landfill through waste reduction, recycling and composting,” said Anderson. Project applications are accepted in two rounds, with deadlines of Jan. 2 and July 1. The $600,000 program is financed with landfill fees. 

“It could be as simple as a cardboard baler,” to prepare the materials for sale to a recycler, Anderson said. “Or as elaborate as  recycling tires or food wastes or installing anaerobic digesters” to produce burnable gas from organic material, Anderson said. 

Over the decades, packaging has become a bigger issue but hasn’t grown as much as Wright had expected. 

On the other hand, landfill waste analyses show that food wastes, which were 10 percent of the loads going to landfills in 1998, now are 20 percent. And 7 percent of those organic wastes are in unopened packages, many of which weren’t as far gone as people think reading the “best by” dates, Anderson said. “That floors me,” he added. 

DNR also runs a $400,000 program that assists with the demolition or rehabilitation of dilapidated buildings in communities of fewer than 5,000 people. The program offers aid of $50,000, but that rises to $75,000 if the debris is recycled.

The programs have seen budgets shrink over the years, but Wright said the DNR staff continues to work directly with businesses, residents and organizations to save them money, curb pollution and lengthen the life of local landfills.

Iowa Waste Exchange case studies

BestCob of Independence turned corncobs into materials used for sandblasting and as animal feed additives, animal pharmaceutical carriers, chemical and oil absorbent material, and filler for plastic 
and composite products.

A team in Hampton 
used old drapes as dropcloths and protective barriers while painting a mural on a building.

Goodwill of the Heartland had foam sheets left over from its contract services. The agency in Cedar Rapids used the sheets for packing and some were used by a partner suggested by DNR, M&W Manufacturing. 

Case studies, Pollution Prevention Services

Bridgestone Americas Tire Operations, Des Moines
Last year, Bridgestone worked with Iowa State University mechanical engineering student Samuel Hartman to find ways to trim the company’s annual 100 million gallons of water usage, which costs $700,000. The goal is to reduce water use by 35 percent from 2005 levels by the year 2020. The company already implemented some of the ideas, such as reusing water from a curing process and monitoring pumps. 

Hach, an Ames-based manufacturer of water testing equipment and testing methods, worked with ISU chemical engineering student Akshay Kulkarni to inventory water use and look for ways to save water. Kulkarni recommended flow meter installations, changes in hoses and recycling of water, among other changes, with potential savings in 
the thousands of dollars. 

Principal Financial Group 
Principal wanted to save on energy and water consumption. The company brought in Omar Sanousi, an ISU mechanical engineering student. He suggested shutting off large TVs that ran 24 hours a day, adjusting the standby mode on dishwashers and improvements to ventilation and cooling towers. 

Iowa Department of Natural Resources waste reduction services,
Iowa Waste Reduction Center, University of Northern Iowa,
Iowa Waste Exchange:
Center for Industrial Research and Service, Iowa State University,
Metro Waste Authority,

Environmental workshop

The Iowa Department of Natural Resources, the University of Northern Iowa and the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency Region 7 will offer a workshop offering tips on environmental compliance on April 24 at the Courtyard by Marriott in Ankeny. Speakers will outline U.S. Environmental Protection Agency priorities, EPA’s Toxic Release Inventory and transportation regulations. Cost: $40. Pollution prevention intern case studies: