Manufacturing Recycling Guidelines

Reducing Manufacturing Waste

In the United States, nearly 8 billion tons of industrial waste is created every year. Not all industrial waste comes from manufacturing operations carried out in factories. Much of it comes from other industrial operations, such as mining, generating electricity, refining petroleum, food processing, water treatment, steel production, and more.

The terms “industrial waste” and “manufacturing waste” are used interchangeably to refer collectively to materials that are of no further use at the end of any such production process. Industrial/manufacturing waste also often is referred to as “solid waste,” though solid wastes are not necessarily physically solid. Solid wastes actually may be liquid, semi-solid, or contained gasses. All hazardous waste is solid waste, but not all solid waste is hazardous waste. A little confusing, right?

The point is, whatever it’s called and wherever it originates, an enormous amount of waste is created in the U.S. industrial sector, and reducing what ends up in our landfills needs to be a nationwide priority for a host of environmental and economic reasons. Recycling is key to that effort.

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Recycling Basics

Materials that can be removed from the manufacturing waste stream and reused in their current form or transformed into something else are referred to as “recyclables.” Products made entirely or partly from recyclable materials often are described as having “recycled content.”

Some manufacturing waste can be recycled internally by reusing it in the manufacturing process, as is commonly the case with metals. For example, manufacturers of copper tubing typically collect tube ends and trimmings, remelt and recast them, and feed them back into the production of new tubing.

When internal recycling is not feasible, external recycling organizations purchase waste materials, sort them if necessary, and resell them as raw materials to be used in creating new products. External recycling of paper, which accounts for more than one third of the waste that ends up in U.S. landfills, is increasingly common. Many parts and materials serving as inputs to manufacturing processes arrive in corrugated cardboard, and those empty boxes can be repulped and turned into new cardboard. Plastic drink bottles can be recycled to create plastic buckets or safety vests or any number of other products with recyclable content.

Why Do You Need a Manufacturing Recycling Program?

There are three main reasons to get serious about recycling in your manufacturing facility (whatever that may be) if you’re not already: legal, environmental, and financial. From a legal standpoint, having a robust manufacturing recycling program makes it easier to comply with federal, state, and local waste management regulations. Those regulations are intended to protect the environment by reducing greenhouse gas emissions from landfills and conserving energy and other production resources. Finally, having a manufacturing recycling program can provide additional revenue streams and reduce the cost of acquiring materials used as inputs to the manufacturing process.

Planning a Manufacturing Recycling Program

A manufacturing recycling program is only as good as the planning that goes into establishing it. Here are some planning guidelines that should help, regardless of the size of a manufacturing facility or the nature of the manufacturing process.

  • Analyze the production process to determine what waste materials are being generated and which ones may be recyclable. Try to weigh, measure, or otherwise quantify the amount of waste generated per day, week, or month. What process changes could be made to reduce the amount of waste being created—for example, using recyclable parts or materials as inputs?
  • Apply the same reasoning to nonproduction areas, such as offices, cafeteria, break areas, conference rooms, etc.
  • Which, if any, of the facility’s recyclable waste materials could be recycled internally for reuse within the facility? Which would require external recycling?
  • Does the facility have an existing relationship with a waste management company? Could that company purchase the company’s recyclables? If so, would this be a cost-effective option for diverting the facility’s recyclables from its solid waste stream? If the facility does not have a waste management partner capable of meeting its external recycling needs, find one that is. Look for one that is well versed in regulatory requirements and has a strong network of recycling companies and other potential purchasers for the facility’s recyclables.
  • Create a written recycling plan that specifies who will do what, and when, where, and how it will be accomplished. Outline the procedures for removing recyclable waste at appropriate points in the manufacturing process, placing recyclables in receptacles, and doing any necessary sorting before they are collected for internal recycling or picked up for external recycling.
  • Establish employee guidelines and incentives to help ensure compliance with the recycling plan.
  • Decide how the recycling plan will be communicated, monitored, enforced, and evaluated after implementation. This may require a training component.

Don’t expect to get everything right initially. It’s best to enter into any recycling program in the spirit of continuous improvement. Soliciting employee feedback and evaluating the performance of any waste management partners are important to post-implementation evaluation and ongoing improvement.

Contact Repurposed Materials today to find out how we can help you find a new home for unwanted materials.