Managing the true cost of manufacturing waste. By Arnold Bowers

The financial incentives for an organization to address its carbon emissions become even more evident as energy costs rise. But as I’ve worked with manufacturers, large and small, over the past 27-plus years, I’ve come to learn that waste costs – handling, consolidating, transporting, and not fully utilizing the materials used – can often be just as significant as energy costs.

Organizations are motivated by both the ethical and business implications around sustainability, and it’s clear that decarbonization efforts go hand-in-hand with waste management efforts. Even the boldest Zero Waste corporate pledges from manufacturing firms can be achieved by fully utilizing the avenues available.

General waste and manufacturing waste

Companies have been interested in and focused on the environmental impact of their waste for a long time – wanting to do the right thing when hauling, landfilling, and recycling, while also keeping costs low.

For the manufacturing sector, in addition to all the general waste that is generated at any workspace by just having humans there (paper, plastic, food) manufacturing facilities have the additional waste considerations around the products they are manufacturing. Offcuts from shaping steel for vehicles, the food product thrown away because it didn’t meet standards, and the packaging and pallets used to transport raw materials all need to be disposed of properly.

While each manufacturer will have a unique assortment of waste products they’re dealing with, there is a broad overlap of needs across facilities and across sectors. The waste from wood pallets, polystyrene foams, carboard, mixed plastic, wires, paper, and metals are common at any manufacturer. Regardless of the final product being created with them, the waste can be minimized, processed more efficiently, and in some cases even turned into sources of revenue.

Addressing waste in the manufacturing sector

Despite the variety of waste being addressed, both unique to manufacturing and common to any work environment, all of the waste can be addressed as part of the same overall process.

Some common ways to address manufacturing waste include:

Selling what is considered waste as raw material: The ideal solution in a circular economy is the ability to sell waste to an organization that can then utilize it as a material in its own manufacturing process. Not only does that keep the waste out of the landfill, but it creates an additional revenue stream for the organization.

Update equipment: Just like a manufacturer would see cost and efficiency improvement by replacing an outdated boiler, alongside reducing carbon emissions, implementing, implementing the right waste equipment will have a huge impact. A 25-year-old compactor currently packing four-ton loads can be replaced with one capable of packing ten-to-12 tons. Modern compactors can not only handle a greater volume of waste, but with the proper monitoring technology, can timestamp, record and analyze all activity – frequency, energy utilization, directional valve shifts, pressure monitoring, etc.

Tailored waste receptacles: One large dumpster that is only ever 70 percent full will be charged at full price. Using smaller waste bins instead, each dedicated to specific needs (for waste, recycling, compost) would use resources more efficiently and make the sorting process easier down the road. The deployment of commercial waste bin monitoring technology can also support greater efficiency of services, both on the generation and logistical pick-up of the business.

Implementing behavioral changes: While there will always be new technologies to invest in and new equipment to buy, at the end of the day each person across an organization need to adopt and follow the waste management program at the facility. I’ve had clients say they package and haul their cardboard appropriately. But when we perform an audit, we find that 25 percent of their general waste is cardboard because people find it easier to dispose of in areas that are convenient. A combination of bin placement and training can help address that issue.

Most companies will see tremendous success by implementing these tactics, and others, to reduce their overall waste – and their overall costs.

Finding the right waste solutions

While there are commonalities across the manufacturing sector, the waste solutions will vary not only from company to company, but from site to site within one organization. For example, when considering the language used for waste management signage throughout the facility, the common language used by the majority of workers may not be the common language used in the local area.

The current state, the current processes, how material flows through a plant, what equipment is being used will each give direction on what interventions would be most impactful – including both infrastructural and behavioral adjustments. Increasingly, companies are recognizing that waste reduction is helping to reduce their Scope 3 emissions by keeping garbage out of landfills, cutting hauling trips, and extending product lifespans. Thorough audits and data around materials cost and usage will help identify ways to minimize waste overall, opportunities to sell what could be raw materials to another organization, and possibilities to integrate principles of circularity – each of which will go a long way to help any organization reach its ambitious decarbonization and waste management goals.

For a list of the sources used in this article, please contact the editor.

Arnold Bower

Arnold Bowers is Senior Director, Expansion Waste Service at ENGIE Impact. ENGIE Impact delivers sustainability solutions and services to corporations, cities and governments across the globe. ENGIE Impact brings together a wide range of strategic and technical capabilities, to provide a comprehensive offer to support clients in tackling their complex sustainability challenges from strategy to execution.