Lesson 5 Waste reduction in automotive companies
Waste reduction in automotive companies
Waste reduction, also known as source reduction, is the practice of using less material and energy to minimize waste generation and preserve natural resources. Waste reduction is broader in scope than recycling and incorporates ways to prevent materials from ending up as waste before they reach the recycling stage.
Waste reduction includes reusing products such as plastic and glass containers, purchasing more durable products, and using reusable products, such as dishrags instead of paper towels. Purchasing products that replace hazardous materials with biodegradable ingredients reduces pollution as well as waste. In general, waste reduction offers several environmental benefits. Greater efficiency in the production and use of products means less energy consumption, resulting in less pollution. More natural resources are preserved. Products using less hazardous materials are used. Finally, less solid waste ends up in landfills.
Waste reduction also means economic savings. Fewer materials and less energy is used when waste-reduction practices are applied. Rather than using the traditional cradle-to-grave approach, a cradle-to-cradle system is adopted.
In this cradle-to-cradle system, also called industrial ecology, products are not used for a finite length of time. Instead of disposing of materials, or the components of a product after a single use, products are passed on for further uses. This is considered a flow of materials. This can be applied within an organization, or between organizations that may be considered unrelated, on a cooperative basis.
Waste can be reduced by individuals, businesses, institutions such as hospitals or educational facilities, organizations, municipalities, or government agencies.
Manufacturers can establish product recycling, refurbishment, and replacement programs which engage with customers directly. By increasing the points of customer contact, firms have more opportunities to improve customer engagement, brand loyalty, and the profit margins [[i]].
This strategy focuses on designing vehicle components to be recyclable, reusable, and remanufacturable from the outset. Integrating these concepts into product design and initial manufacturing is critical to reducing remanufacturing costs later on in the product cycle. Although it does require additional R&D investment today, it will reap benefits in the future in the form of lower production costs.
Lengthening product usability after a ‘rent instead of sell’ model has been implemented will serve to improve firm profitability even further – as vehicle repair expenses decrease in the face of constant recurring revenue streams paid by customers.
Opportunities for improving material usability include ensuring that the materials used are adequately suitable for a closed-loop manufacturing system, investing in R&D to further improve on the recyclability of engines, as well as leveraging new 3D printing technologies when producing smaller-batch niche components.
Benefits of reducing waste
Improving waste management can benefit business and the environment by:
- reducing the cost of purchasing metals and other raw materials through process improvements (e.g. fewer offcuts and rejects)
- minimising waste treatment and disposal costs
- reducing environmental impacts associated with waste disposal and consumption of limited resources (e.g. by reviewing purchasing practices or testing the suitability of recycled or non-composite materials that can be separated and recycled if they meet customer specifications and requirements)
- improving the reputation of business and employee satisfaction through promoting an environmentally responsible image and providing a safer and more comfortable workplace.
Major waste generating activities
The major environmental wastes generated by the automotive manufacturing industry include: machine lubricants and coolants; aqueous and solvent cleaning systems; paint; and scrap metals and plastics.
Hazardous cleaning chemicals are very common and are likely to require special waste management arrangements. Office and warehousing wastes, such as paper, printer cartridges, pallets and packaging materials can also be avoided, reused or recycled [[ii]].
Implementing waste management improvements may require forward planning and some changes to the way in business operates.
- proposed changes may need to be discussed with managers, workplace safety representatives, unions, insurers, investors, suppliers and customers to identify possible risks to quality, productivity, work conditions or security and check that they are acceptable (e.g. protect products from damage during shipment and delivery if surplus packaging is removed and check that customers will accept products without packaging);
- employee training and awareness may be required to successfully implement actions and support the introduction of new equipment or processes, such as changes to quality management procedures, use of on-site wastewater and other recycling systems, or sorting of waste streams;
- special licences or permits may be required by the business or contractors to store, treat, transport or dispose of hazardous and controlled wastes, such as used chemicals;
- results are more likely to be achieved and maintained with a written plan and clear targets agreed by all areas of management.