5 Ways Manufacturers Can Reduce Production Waste

By David Madden, Founder of Container Exchanger

Manufacturing can be a messy business. The U.S. produces an estimated 7.6 billion tons of industrial waste every year. However, this trend isn’t sustainable. Increasing federal regulation, high costs, increasing competition and changing consumer preferences are pushing manufacturers towards sustainability.

As a manufacturer, you can do your part to reduce production waste by changing the way you create and distribute your products. Even switching to used industrial wire baskets for order fulfillment, rather than brand new, can make a huge impact. Building a sustainable business model isn’t just about protecting the environment. Reducing waste can help you save money as well. You can reduce your manufacturing costs, improve efficiency, and meet the needs of environmentally conscious consumers at the same time. Just like you were taught in school, reducing industrial waste comes down to the three R’s: reduce, reuse, and recycle. Use these five tips to keep waste at a minimum.

Reuse Shipping Containers and Packages

Nothing creates waste like disposable containers and packaging. Even if you recycle your materials, your business will need to generate and order new supplies every time another order comes in. If you depend on your customers to recycle, guess again. About one-third of the average dump is made up of packaging material that probably could have been recycled.

Instead of using disposable plastic and cardboard, consider utilizing recycled and used bulk containers. You can find dozens of reusable containers available online, so you don’t have to start from scratch every time you need to send out an order. Have your distributor return your empty containers at the end of their route to reduce industrial waste, but make sure to rinse off your containers before refilling them.

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Use Less Packaging

You can also reduce waste by using less packaging in the first place. It’s always important to keep your product safe during transit, but that doesn’t mean you need to spend a fortune on cardboard, plastic, and other packaging supplies. Switch to durable plastic totes, metal containers, and gallon drums to keep your inventory intact.

Manufacturers and retailers tend to overwrap their products when shipping directly to consumers, but you don’t have to stuff your packages to the brim with filler to protect your goods. Instead, find containers that match the size and shape of your products to reduce movement during transit. Plastic totes and other kinds of containers come in all shapes and sizes, helping you simplify the packaging process.

You can also use bulk packaging to reduce your footprint. Combine orders into the same container whenever possible to minimize waste.

Utilize Sustainable Packaging Materials

You have plenty of options when it comes to packaging and shipping your products. In case you haven’t heard, the shipping industry is going green. Companies of all sizes are looking for ways to reduce shipping costs and increase sustainability. Creating waste and polluting the environment can lead to unexpected costs, nasty lawsuits, and poor brand reputation. Don’t let your customers hold your wasteful practices against you and take their business to a competitor.

To fend off any criticism, it’s best to avoid unsustainable packaging and shipping materials altogether. Some products need to be thrown away, while others can and should be recycled. Try to swap them out unsustainable materials for alternatives whenever possible.

Avoid Styrofoam peanuts, foam inserts, plastic wrap and other shipping materials that usually end up in the garbage. Look for shipping materials that decompose naturally. Products made from corn starch, sorghum, and bamboo won’t pollute the environment even if they end up in the local landfill.

Recycle Scraps and Unused Materials

Your business is bound to leave some scraps behind when it comes to manufacturing your goods. Make sure your team recycles any waste generated during the manufacturing process. You can use a large rolling bin to collect unused materials at the end of the day.

Once you’ve collected these scrap materials, you can either recycle them outright or try to incorporate them back into the manufacturing process. If you use sustainable manufacturing techniques such as 3D printing, you can easily feed used materials back into the machine to increase your throughput.

If you can’t use these scrap materials, create a facility-wide recycling program to keep these items out of the local landfill. Plastic totes and bins are great options to sort your scrap materials. Research the best ways to recycle these different items. For example, it’s usually not best to recycle hazardous materials, so adhere to all safety regulations when disposing of these materials.

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Partner with Responsible Suppliers

Creating a sustainable supply chain is often a group effort. Even if you do everything you can to limit industrial waste, the same may not be true of your suppliers and business partners. Learn more about your suppliers’ operations to make sure they are up to your standards. If you end up throwing away bags of saran wrap and Styrofoam peanuts every time you receive an order from one of your suppliers, it might be time for a change.

Talk to these companies and gauge their willingness to change. If they are resistant to new shipping methods and sustainable manufacturing, you may need to source your ingredients and materials elsewhere. The same is true of retailers and other consumer-facing businesses. Make sure these companies are not overpackaging your products, resorting to poor-quality packaging, or throwing your shipping materials in the garbage after they’ve been unwrapped. Work with companies that share your commitment to sustainability to reduce industrial waste.

The manufacturing industry always seems to be in flux. As new technology and trends come onto the market, practices may change, but sustainability never goes out of style. Long gone are the days of disposable packaging and wasteful production practices. Start improving your business model today to make sure your company is on the right side of history.