25 Ways to Reduce, Reuse and Recycle Industrial Waste
Industrial waste is a landfill liability and can contaminate groundwater, rivers, and streams. When waste is burned, it releases hazardous gases into the air and leaves toxic residues in the form of ash. These hazardous waste byproducts can find their way into humans and animals in one form or another.
In addition to the negative environmental impact, industrial waste can also be extremely costly to discard or incinerate.
By incorporating the 3R’s (Reduce, Reuse, Recycle) into waste management, manufacturers not only support the environment, but they can also significantly reduce their costs.
Below are 25 examples of how to incorporate the 3R’s into your manufacturing process. Many of these examples are utilized by some of the world’s biggest and best manufacturers.
Let’s get started.
What is Waste?
In its most basic definition, waste is…
- Excessive or useless consumption.
- Unwanted or unusable materials.
The first definition describes the principles of lean manufacturing, a systematic method for minimizing waste such as defects, excess processing, overproduction, waiting, inventory, moving, motion, and non-utilized talent.
The second definition describes more tangible wastes such as chemical, solid, hazardous, medical, and construction waste.
A good waste reduction, reuse, and recycling strategy will help reduce both these tangible and intangible wastes.
What to do with your Waste
Solid waste will ultimately have one of five outcomes (listed from most to least preferred).
- Source reduction
- Energy recovery
- Treatment and disposal
As a general strategy, you should evaluate all waste streams, and find a way to move it up the waste hierarchy.
Let’s talk about the top three on the list – reduction, reuse, and recycling (also referred to as the 3R’s). To learn more about energy recovery, treatment, and disposal, check out our infographic on waste disposal options.
Ways to Reduce Waste
At the top of the waste hierarchy is source reduction. This means to find ways to reduce the amount of waste being generated in production.
The best approach is a “lean” approach. Reducing excess processing and defects, in particular, can have a substantial impact on environmental sustainability.
Here are some ways to reduce manufacturing waste:
- Upgrade process equipment – Invest in newer equipment that will produce less scrap.
- Upgrade supply / raw materials – A higher quality raw material may generate less waste in the process or reaction.
- Conduct training – New training or refresher courses will keep employees in top form and help reduce inefficiencies and waste on the production line.
- Add quality checks – Include more quality checks in your processes so errors are caught quicker and less scrap or rework is generated.
- Rigorous tracking – Tracking your output with timestamps will help identify areas for improvement.
- Cut waste generation at the source – Talk to suppliers for better, more sustainable alternatives.
- Audit your supplier – Audit your supplier’s downstream process. How do they source their materials?
- Work with suppliers for well-timed deliveries – Shorter storage may result in less packaging requirements to protect against damage, aging, etc.
- Reduce packaging materials – Avoid packing tiny items in a huge box. Find a reusable packaging alternative, such as a tub or bin.
- Return packaging – Ask vendors to take packaging back. There may be the possibility that they can reuse it or at least generate greater quantities which will enhance the feasibility of recycling.
- Redesign your process flow – Cut out unnecessary steps, and reduce the amount of movement to improve efficiency.
- Hold regular 6S Events – 6S is a modification of the six sigma 5S methodology for lean process improvement. A 6S event includes: Sort, Set, Shine, Standardize, Sustain, Safety.
Ways to Reuse Waste
Reuse refers to using an object as it is without breaking it down. Reuse is preferred over recycling because it consumes less energy.
- Switch to reusable towels – Reusable shop towels save energy, improve air quality and reduce waste compared to disposable wipes. While shop towel laundering uses water and energy, the resources required for manufacturing a new rag are far more substantial than those required for the laundering process. Reusable shop towels also require less packaging waste and significantly less total solid waste. Reusable towels vs. Disposable Wipes: Get the Facts
- Switch to reusable absorbents – Absorbents pads or kitty litter are often used to collect leaks and drips from industrial machines. Instead of single-use absorbents, switch to an absorbent reuse program where absorbents are laundered for reuse and the recovered oil is recycled.
- Have your PPE gloves and filter bags laundered – Some industrial laundry service companies will launder your gloves and filter bags. A laundering service will cut down on both cost and waste!
- Reusable coveralls and aprons – A laundering service for your coveralls and aprons can extend the life of your PPE textiles.
- Reuse cardboard & bubble wrap waste in shipping / receiving – A person in the United States is expected to move 11.4 times in his lifetime. Encourage re-use for employees needing boxes for moving or for other purposes.
- Switch to pallets – Instruct suppliers to ship things on reusable pallets and backhaul them for reuse.
- Reuse wastewater – If you are a heavy water user, consider the possibility of doing your own wastewater treatment.
- Host a rummage sale – Hold a community rummage for slightly imperfect products. Donate the money to charity. For example, every year ITU AbsorbTech hosts a rummage sale at their production plant (open to the public) to sell extra inventory such as uniforms, first aid items, and walk mats. All of the money is donated to JDRF to support diabetes research.
Ways to Recycle Waste
Recycling means turning an item into raw materials which can be used again, usually for a completely new product.
- Establish key partnerships – Seek partnerships with local recyclers, waste management companies, and even colleges and universities that may be interested in related school projects, or even a graduate student thesis.
- Use a waste exchange program – What you consider waste can be a resource for another business. Exchange the generated waste through a waste exchange program with such businesses. This can include off-spec products, scrap, excess, small amounts of raw materials that may expire before use, or small amounts that are not enough for a full process run.
- Send your food waste to a local farm – Local farms can sometimes feed your food waste to their livestock after treating/heating to food for safety.
- Start a company-wide recycling and education program. Start a recycling team to identify other ways to recycle throughout the company. For example, switching to regular silverware in the lunchroom and getting rid of Styrofoam cups by the coffee machine.
Some tips for success:
- Communicate your plan clearly to all employees
- Make it easy to succeed with clearly labeled bins in convenient locations
- Create a “recycling manual” that can be referred to by current and future employees.
- Get employee buy-in by engaging them in the process
- Offer incentives
- Reclaim your chemicals. For example, lead can be reclaimed from batteries and paint. Many solvents that have been used can also be distilled for reuse, like acetone
The benefits of investing in sustainable waste management are endless. Here are a few.
- Save money, especially given the cost of special waste disposal.
- Improve processing and realize new efficiencies.
- Sustainability is good for business. People (and companies) want to do business with companies that support the environment.
- Quite simply, it’s the right thing to do.