OPINION: Wallingford’s Allnex does more than just tell you how green they are

OPINION: Wallingford’s Allnex does more than just tell you how green they are


 By Stephen Knight

There was an interesting article on the front page of June 24th’s Record-Journal concerning our industrial neighbor, Allnex (yes, it should be a lower case ‘a’ but it’s more readable capitalizing it). The article was, by necessity, brief; so, as a member of Allnex’s Community Advisory Board, I thought I would give readers “the rest of the story,” as the late, legendary radio broadcaster Paul Harvey used to say.

Allnex was formed in 2013 from the spin-off of Cytec Inc.’s industrial coatings and resins business. Although operating within its permit requirements, yearly Toxic Release Inventory (or TRI) emissions from the plant ranged between 250,000 to 300,000 pounds. The company immediately embarked on a course to significantly reduce its TRI footprint, not only as an economic and corporate citizenship commitment, but also to be in line with the company’s fundamental culture. Adding the first layer of 320,000 high-density polyethylene balls was done in 2014, and it accomplished a 10% reduction in the TRI.

This was not as simple as it sounds. The equalization basin, as it’s called, is an approximately 135-foot-square pond and holds 2.4 million gallons. Covering this basin would have 1) been immensely expensive and 2) would have created an unhealthy air environment for those entering that dome to perform maintenance. But a plant engineer had read about how a reservoir in California had used these plastic balls to prevent evaporation, and the company began to explore this possibility.

Covering a wastewater treatment pond has complications that covering a reservoir does not. First, they needed to make sure the balls would not foul the machinery in the basin. Then they had to be sure that the polyethylene balls would not be damaged by the trace chemicals in the water.

Satisfied with the tests performed, they put the first layer in. In that application, all that needed to be done was to empty the 156 huge, 200-pound sacks (3 full truckloads) into the water. The balls would float into place, covering the entire basin.

The impetus to add a second layer began in 2018. Again, this initiative was not generated for compliance.  Allnex was striving to drive down their TRI numbers even further, the ultimate goal being to be consistently under the current 50-60,000-pound present range. A chemical emissions model predicted that an additional 6,000-pound reduction could be accomplished through this second layer.

However, the interesting challenge then became how to equally distribute 320,000 more balls on top of the existing layer. The first application had the advantage of floating into place on water. This second layer could not be applied in such a way. More creativity was required — and more money. A crane was needed so that the sacks of balls could be emptied evenly around the entire basin. Then a firehose would be used to move the balls into their final resting place. Those are the pictures you saw in the R-J article.

What I find so compelling about this story is that Allnex did not need to do all this. Allnex corporate headquarters approved this significant expenditure specifically to meet a company goal, not to meet a regulatory requirement. The company had already reduced its emissions by 80% from the time they took over the plant.

In fact, as a worldwide corporation, Allnex is committing 90% of their research and development funds to “sustainable development.” In other words, they are aiming to continually reduce their environmental footprint, and not only in emissions reductions. It includes the materials they use to produce their products, the products themselves, and even finding ways of recycling the chemicals used to produce those products.

I will confess to being fascinated with industrial processes to begin with. But If I sound like one of their publicists, it’s because 1) I am delighted that this pioneering company is in our town of Wallingford, and 2) this is a company that doesn’t just tell you how green they are, but actually invests funds to attain results.

Having been invited to be on their Community Advisory Board has been an education for me, and I hope that this column has been so for you. Our industrial neighbor is an unusual organization in an industry long-pilloried for its environmental missteps. Allnex is demonstrating that you can successfully enhance your profitability while simultaneously reducing your impact on the planet. It’s not an either/or proposition. And 320,000 black plastic balls are a perfect example of that fact.

Stephen Knight is a former Wallingford town councilor.