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Cummins gathers recyclables, draws on teams’ leadership

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Andrew Laker | The Republic
Mark Slaton, right, empties a box of cardboard into a recycling bin Tuesday at Cummins Engine Plant during the company%u2019s free recyclables drop-off. Assisting Slaton was Rohit Jain, left.
Andrew Laker | The Republic Mark Slaton, right, empties a box of cardboard into a recycling bin Tuesday at Cummins Engine Plant during the company%u2019s free recyclables drop-off. Assisting Slaton was Rohit Jain, left.

Big, bulky television sets baked in the sun Tuesday in the parking lot of Cummins Engine Plant. Nearby, blue and black sturdy plastic barrels of oil and antifreeze stood as sentries near cardboard boxes filled with paper, plastic and empty Budweiser and Dos Equis bottles.

Cummins employees in yellow safety vests and work gloves unloaded a steady stream of cars, motorcycles and even scooters to collect recyclable materials including soda cans, floppy disks and microwave ovens.

Cummins Engine Plant and Tech Center employees were joining forces for a recycling event as part of the company’s Environmental Challenge, a global effort that aims to improve communities, help retain employees and develop their leadership skills.

About halfway through the 12-hour event, 325 vehicles had stopped by, already surpassing organizers’ expectations for the whole day — and more than doubling the response of the inaugural event in 2010.

“It’s been a great showing,” said Mark Slaton, a Cummins environmental engineer and one of the event’s organizers.

More than 100 vehicles snaked through the parking lot in front of the big Cummins “C” Tuesday morning as Cummins employees and 15 students from Columbus East High School parried the early onslaught.

An Indianapolis company picked up the TV sets, computer monitors and other electronics, while the bulk of the rest of the collected materials was being trucked to the Bartholomew County recycling center.

Slaton said he felt good about keeping the waste off local streets, out of the landfill and out of Haw Creek or East Fork White River.

“I’ve got this bent against throwing stuff away in the landfill,” said the Plainfield native who has worked at Cummins for 24 years.

The Cummins Tech Center team, led by Health, Safety and Environmental Leader Mark Mandel, by midday had collected 100 gallons of antifreeze and 250 gallons of oil.

About 90 percent of the oil will be reused, said Mandel, as metal cans clanged and glass bottles tinged while being dropped into nearby cardboard boxes.

“It really makes a difference,” said Mandel, a London native who came to the U.S. in 1999 and has worked in Columbus for two years.

Bartholomew County Solid Waste Management District Director Jim Murray said his crews were supporting the event by providing containers and picking up the collected materials.

Murray said he especially appreciated Cummins’ focus on education and hopes to see more residents routinely drop off their recyclables at the Columbus/Bartholomew Recycling Center, 720 S. Mapleton St., which is open every day except Sunday.

“The effect goes well beyond this one-day collection,” Murray said.

For Cummins, the event served as a means to help clean up the community — but also to help retain employees and identify future leaders.

“For us to be successful in the long run, we need to have healthy communities,” said Tobi Herron, corporate responsibility manager.

The company encourages employees to use their skills to improve the environment, but events such as the recycling effort also help create a greater attachment of the employees to their team and the community, which the company expects makes them more likely to stay with Cummins.

The employees also have to generate ideas, plan events and recruit volunteers, skills that they can employ in leadership roles.

“It’s a really good way for us to see ... who are our leaders of the future,” said Blair Claflin, director of sustainability communications.

Columbus native Kelly Kellems, a health, safety and environmental associate at Cummins, said she was putting in a 12-hour day for two very personal reasons.

“It gives my girls (9-year-old Lexia and 8-month-old Alivia) a cleaner environment,” she said.

New and potential employees also were helping.

Seymour native Emily Bowen, who joined Cummins a month ago as a human resources administrative analyst, also had donned a safety vest and gloves to unload vehicles and sort recyclables.

The Indiana University graduate said she enjoys community service and likes that Cummins is taking its corporate responsibilities seriously.

Cummins intern Rohit Jain, an native of Agra, India, and student at the University of Michigan, where he is pursuing a master’s degree in mechanical engineering, said the event was a “cool opportunity” to respond to the company’s request that employees support their communities.

At the end of the year, the local recycling team will file a report about the event to compete with teams across the globe to be named among 15 winners in the company’s Environmental Challenge, which was launched four years ago. Last year, four Columbus teams were named winners.

In 2010, teams completed 86 projects in 13 countries. In 2011, they finished 140 events in 21 countries, Herron said. More than 10,000 employees, or about a quarter of the company’s workforce, invested 50,220 hours in the Environmental Challenge in 2011, up from 3,200 employees and 33,450 hours in 2009.

“We’re on track to have another really successful year,” Herron said.

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