Caterpillar helps supply employees’ home projects through wood recycling program

Caterpillar helps supply employees’ home projects through wood recycling program

The company’s facility in Lafayette, Indiana, offers leftover scraps to any employee who wants the waste for their own do-it-yourself projects.

Employees at the Caterpillar plant in Lafayette, Indiana, have been using leftover wood from shipping crates associated with assembling equipment for personal uses at their homes, reports the Lafayette Journal & Courier.

"At the Lafayette facility, we make big engines," said Justin Koehler, environmental and safety manager for Caterpillar’s Lafayette facility. "…Those big engines come in some big packaging. You can imagine, we accumulate a lot of wood scraps that's reusable. We identify the wood left over from the packaging as useful and valuable for other uses."

With a production menu that includes construction and mining equipment, diesel and natural gas engines, industrial gas turbines and diesel-electric locomotives, the facility brings in about 4,000 pounds of wood a week. By having employees repurpose this wood for other uses, Koehler says this helps the company meet one of its core values—sustainability.

"We are always looking for ways to reduce our carbon footprint to be better for the community and for the world. Sustainability is very attractive when bringing on new employees, to be able to provide a place of employment we can be proud of," Koehler told the Journal & Courier.

Started in the late 1990s, the facility's recycled wood program offers the leftover scraps to any Caterpillar employee who wants the waste for their own do-it-yourself projects.

"This has definitely been a benefit," said Koehler, who oversees the program. "We have maybe 10 to 15 requests a week for the wood, and about 4,000 pounds leave each week for this program.

"It's been great to give back to our employees and let them use the wood."

For Quan Wen, who has been a manufacturing engineer at Caterpillar for the past 13 years, this program has helped him build coops for his chickens.

Wen first built a chicken coop about six years ago, he said, but a second one became necessary after some infighting.

Wen built the second coop during the COVID-19 pandemic shutdown when he found himself at home with a lot of time on his hands. Such a project requires the wood from at least 20 crates, according to Wen, because the material is recycled and needs some extra care to get the pieces ready for his projects.

"The wood's not perfect, and you have to clean them up compared to what you buy from home improvement store ready to use," said Wen.

Julie Howe, a 21-year Caterpillar employee now in the quality department, has found a multitude of uses for the wood, including a wall in a new garage that displays some family treasures.

"I lined an entire end of my garage with [the recycled wood and] whitewashed it," Howe told the Journal & Courier. "That's what I call my memory wall, mementos from my life, things my dad gave me — like a deer head, old things that most young kids wouldn't want."

While lumber costs have soared in the past year, the wood given to Caterpillar employees has served as a free incentive to showcase their handy work.

"To put shelving up, I used two-by-four-foot shelving. I didn’t do the math to see how much that would cost, but it would be a lot," Howe said. "Not only does it look nice, but it saved me money, and I personally put equity and sweat in. That's an achievement.”