Trenton employee driving force behind MillerCoors recycling milestone

First mega brewery to become landfill-free

TRENTON, Ohio -- It was business as usual as Kelly Harris took out the trash at the MillerCoors brewery in Trenton—a routine task for employees of the facility that averaged about 56 tons of trash each month.

But on this trash take-out day, a message he read in a corporate e-mail caused him to pause.

“They wanted us to reduce our landfill [waste] by 15 percent,” said Harris, a 48-year-old hourly employee who worked as a machine operator on a 12-ounce production line for two decades.

He dumped out the trash, and noticed something inside he hadn’t paid attention to before—glass bottles, cans, cardboard and more.

Lots of it. 

“I noticed about everything was recyclable,” he said. “I read the 15 percent [goal in the e-mail] and went to [the brewery vice president] and said ‘Hey, I think we can do better.’”

A small recycling goal that came from the top down in 2008 quickly morphed into a much bigger plan from the shop floor up, led by Harris, who thought he could make the 1,100-acre Trenton facility the first mega brewery in the country to become landfill-free.

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For one of the nation’s largest mega breweries an employee culture that historically shied away from recycling would be hard to change.

“People really hold on tight to those garbage cans,” Harris said.

And it would be even harder for the “little guy” to convince 550 employees—and eventually thousands more—why it was essential for him to take their precious trash cans away.

"I had never made a facility landfill-free," he said.

“It was perhaps a bit of a surprise that we had turned it over to a technician. People were like ‘Woah, wait a second!’” said Denise Quinn, the brewery vice president and Trenton plant manager behind the company’s initial sustainability push.   

 
 

 

This is the first part of a three-part series on Tri-State business sustainability initiatives that have inspired industry standards and ideas across the nation. 

WCPO Insiders can read about how Harris led MillerCoors in Trenton to become the first landfill-free mega brewery in the country, and find out what happened when the hourly employee ran into the company chairman at a local restaurant. 


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