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Reducing Waste In Manufacturing

12 minutes for read

In 2020, the European Union generated an astounding 2.2 billion metric tonnes of waste, highlighting the urgent need for more efficient waste management strategies. 

Waste represents a significant loss of resources and can have serious environmental impacts, such as pollution and harmful emissions from landfills and incineration. European Union (EU) policies aim to reduce waste generation, enhance recycling, and ensure safe disposal to improve resource efficiency. Waste reduction in manufacturing can minimise their environmental footprint and conserve valuable resources.

In this article, we will:

  • Gain a better understanding of the manufacturing waste landscape,
  • Explore strategies for effectively reducing waste in manufacturing and promoting a more sustainable and efficient industry, and
  • Understand the importance of preventing waste altogether.

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Understanding the Manufacturing Waste Landscape

In 2020, the EU generated 2.2 billion metric tonnes of waste from all economic activities and households, amounting to 4,815 kg per person.

This enormous quantity of waste underscores the importance of effective waste management strategies. Here is the breakdown of waste by sector:

  • 212 million tonnes were generated by waste and water services
  • 196 million tonnes by households
  • 167 million tonnes by manufacturing activities

Notably, while waste generation from waste and water services and households increased significantly between 2004 and 2020, manufacturing waste decreased by 30.5%.

About 2.0 billion tonnes of waste were treated in the EU in 2020. There are two main categories of waste treatment: recovery and disposal. Recovery encompasses recycling, energy recovery, and backfilling, where waste fills excavated areas like gravel pits and underground mines. Disposal involves landfilling and incineration.

According to Eurostat, in 2020:

  • 39.9% of the treated waste was recycled, 12.7% was backfilled, and 6.5% underwent energy recovery. 
  • The remaining 40.9% were managed through landfills (32.2%), incineration without energy recovery (0.5%), or other disposal methods (8.2%).

Understanding these trends is crucial for developing effective waste management strategies and promoting sustainability in manufacturing, guaranteeing the efficient use of resources and minimising waste.

Let’s explore common strategies for waste reduction in manufacturing.

1. Optimise Production Processes

Rethinking the production process is a great strategy for waste reduction in manufacturing.

When companies identify inefficiencies and areas for improvement, they can significantly enhance their sustainability efforts. One effective method is to incorporate lean manufacturing principles, such as Just-in-Time manufacturing or Total Quality Management. These techniques focus on minimising waste at every stage of production. For instance, Just-in-Time manufacturing reduces inventory waste by receiving goods only as needed in production. At the same time, Total Quality Management aims to improve quality and reduce defects.

Advanced technologies like automation and robotics can also optimise production. These technologies streamline operations, reduce reliance on manual labour, and improve precision, contributing to less waste. 

Analysing and streamlining production processes also helps manufacturers reduce energy and material consumption, enhance productivity, and minimise waste. This helps to conserve resources and improve the bottom line, making the manufacturing process more sustainable and cost-effective.

2. Implement Sustainable Packaging

Waste reduction in manufacturing requires a holistic approach throughout the product lifecycle, and packaging plays a pivotal role in this effort. Some effective strategies include:

  • Reduce packaging: Minimise the amount of packaging used by opting for lightweight materials like cardboard or paper, which are easier to recycle than heavier plastics or metals. Streamlined designs that eliminate unnecessary packaging layers or components can further reduce the volume of materials used without compromising product safety.
  • Introduce eco-friendly packaging materials: Incorporate reusable or easily recyclable options, such as air packs made from recycled plastic or corn-based packing peanuts, to provide necessary cushioning while being environmentally friendly. Biodegradable materials, like organic fibres or biodegradable plastics, break down naturally over time, reducing long-term waste.
  • Reduce packaging size: Optimise packaging size to efficiently use space in storage and transportation, leading to lower carbon emissions. Streamlined designs that use minimal material necessary can save costs during production, transportation, and waste disposal.

3. Embrace Digitalisation and Technology

Another effective strategy for waste reduction in manufacturing production is to use digital technology and data analytics to optimise manufacturing processes. 

Introducing digital tools for waste tracking, monitoring, and management provides significant sustainability benefits. When manufacturers track production data, they identify inefficiencies and areas for improvement, enabling the implementation of targeted measures to reduce waste. These insights help streamline operations, minimise errors, and ensure resources are used more effectively.

4. Utilise Recycled Materials

Incorporating recycled materials into the manufacturing supply chain is a highly effective strategy for reducing waste.

Material recycling involves reclaiming and reprocessing materials to create new products, which reduces waste in landfills and the need for virgin resources. Additionally, using recycled materials is a cost-effective way to reduce manufacturing costs, particularly in industries heavily dependent on virgin materials.

Contec is a prime example of a company embracing this strategy with circular products. By transforming waste tires into valuable resources, Contec offers innovative products such as recovered Carbon Black (ConBlack®), recovered Tire Pyrolysis Oil (ConPyro®), and recovered Steel (ConWire®), exemplifying sustainable options that support a circular economy. Learn more about Contec’s circular products.

5. Collaborate with Suppliers and Stakeholders

Collaborating to tackle waste management challenges leads to various benefits. 

When stakeholders communicate to share their resources and expertise, they increase innovation and problem-solving. Working closely with suppliers ensures that sustainability goals are aligned across the supply chain, leading to more effective waste management strategies. 

Contec exemplifies the importance of such collaborations through its R&D efforts and industry partnerships:

  • Cooperation with universities: Contec maintains complete control over its research process and cooperates with technical universities, making its R&D process uniquely robust. This enables Contec to drive advancements in sustainable materials.
  • ASTM Committee: Recognising the absence of existing quality standards for recovered Carbon Black (rCB), Contec joined the ASTM Committee D36 to help formulate quality standards and testing methods for rCB. By leveraging its extensive knowledge from years of R&D, Contec continuously improves its product quality and contributes to industry-wide advancements.
  • Waste Management and Recycling Cluster: Contec is a member of the Waste Management and Recycling Cluster, which includes over 136 members, such as SMEs, universities, and NGOs. This cluster fosters an industrial ecosystem that promotes cooperation between waste management businesses and companies providing consultancy services, research, and development. 

6. Use Resources More Efficiently

Waste reduction in manufacturing is also about using resources more efficiently, including water and energy.

Close monitoring of inventory levels enables manufacturers to decrease waste and minimise production delays by reducing unused resources and ensuring the timely availability of required components.

At Contec, we demonstrate our commitment to efficient resource utilisation by powering our Szczecin plant with renewable energy from the thermal energy produced during pyrolysis. 

7. Continuously Measure and Improve

It’s crucial to implement key performance indicators (KPIs) that track progress in waste reduction. These KPIs serve as benchmarks, guiding efforts towards continuous improvement.

Efficient machine and process monitoring is pivotal in transitioning to lean manufacturing. By gathering accurate data on current processes, manufacturers can identify waste areas and make targeted improvements.

Moreover, this approach empowers the workforce to monitor performance and recognise productivity norms. This promotes uniform, standardised working practices and fosters a culture of continuous improvement within the workforce.

Preventing Waste Altogether

The EU’s Waste Framework Directive establishes preventing waste as the foremost priority in waste management. It encourages a 5-step hierarchical approach, beginning with waste prevention and followed by re-use, recycling, and other forms of recovery, with disposal as a last resort. 

This directive highlights the need to reduce waste at its source, divert materials from landfills through recycling and re-use, and limit incineration to non-recyclable materials.

Efforts to prevent waste are key to sustainable manufacturing. By reducing waste generation and maximising recycling and reuse, manufacturers can minimise environmental impact and conserve resources. 

Przemyslaw Rakoczy, Business Development Director at Contec S.A., reinforces this perspective, stating:

“The directive is a major step towards improving the operating conditions for recycling companies and moving circularity in manufacturing to another level.”

Taking Action Today

The necessity for waste reduction in manufacturing is more apparent than ever. Waste is being generated at an unprecedented scale, underscoring the urgent need for sustainable practices within the industry.

From optimising production processes to embracing digitalisation, implementing sustainable packaging, and collaborating across the supply chain, businesses can use numerous actionable strategies to reduce waste. These strategies align with regulatory demands, increase competitiveness, and appeal to conscientious consumers.

Manufacturing leaders have the power to drive significant change by taking action today. At Contec, we’re dedicated to accelerating the transformation towards a circular economy by creating circular products from waste tires, applying sustainability across our operations, and limiting our carbon footprint. Learn more about our process.

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