What Manufacturers Need to Know about “Zero Waste”

Manufacturers provide us with the tools needed to live out our daily lives — from the floors under our feet to the computers we use to stay connected — and as the economy grows, so does the demand for goods. While this demand helps fuel the economy, it also results in increased waste from the manufacturing process. As waste levels increase, so does the threat to our environment. 

These environmental threats have the ability to shut down manufacturing plants altogether. Therefore, mitigating the environmental risks that come from waste does not only benefit the planet but business operations as well. Enter “Zero Waste Manufacturing,” a relatively new concept that has the potential to cut costs and emissions. 

In short, Zero Waste Manufacturing asks manufacturers to account for the waste created in both the production and post-consumption stages of their products’ lifecycle. For example, the emissions associated with the production of the average t-shirt are around 6.75kg of carbon dioxide, including the growth of cotton, its processing into textiles, its manufacture into clothing and the transport, retail, usage and disposal. This way of measuring a product’s emissions has pushed manufacturers to regulate waste produced on-site and assess the entire lifecycle of their product. Additionally, it has prompted manufacturers to understand how waste is created in the acquisition of raw materials and track what happens to a product and its packaging once it’s “consumed” and disposed of by the consumer. 

Extended Producer Responsibility

Though some manufacturers chose to implement a Zero Waste Manufacturing protocol before emissions were tracked and regulated, many are now joining the club with the increased implementation of Extended Producer Responsibility (EPR). EPR is a regulatory system designed to create incentives by placing financial and/or physical responsibility on producers. Though EPR is dominant in the EU, it is expected to take hold in the United States in the coming years. Manufacturers must begin measuring and reducing waste levels to avoid fines and expensive changes in manufacturing technology. 

In other words, the manufacturers who anticipate the oncoming EPR regulations, and invest in creating a Zero Waste Supply Chain, will reduce costs in the long run. 

The good news is that going Zero Waste is easier than it might sound. Much of the manufacturing process is already automated, potentially delivering significant waste reductions when implemented correctly. Manufacturers have begun reducing the waste associated with their profits by creating take-back and recycling programs. However, the most considerable way manufacturers reduce waste is by designing new products that are easier to reuse, repair and recycle. 

Author: Sofia Assab, ESG Analyst |[email protected]

Contact Us

To better understand EPR and the benefits of going zero waste as a manufacturer, please contact Joe Holman at Withum’s ESG Advisory Group.