4 Ways to Improve Your Sustainability Program

The pressure is mounting for manufacturers and businesses to recycle plastics. The reason for this is clear: A staggering 91 percent of plastic goes unrecycled, and about 18 billion pounds of plastic waste enter the ocean each year. As a result, responsible plastic use is a top priority for sustainability managers. Unfortunately, this is not a simple topic to tackle and often requires a concerted effort from all members of an organization.

Keep reading to understand the importance of limiting plastic waste, while exploring four practical tips to do so.

Optimize Operations

Before anything else, businesses should focus on optimizing their operations and inventory management. The expression that “prevention is the greatest medicine” certainly applies here. Your organization should try their best to minimize mistakes in the production process. This is often easier said than done, but there are several methods that should make managing your inventory and operations simpler.

First it is important to collect data and implement appropriate policies. Some recommended policies include determining minimum and maximum order quantities and establishing a proper safety stock. This will help your organization order only the needed quantity of material for a set period of time.

Some organizations may also benefit may also benefit from composing a detailed six sigma approach. Six sigma is a disciplined operational approach that aims to completely optimize operations by almost entirely removing defects and variability from your manufacturing process. By effectively implementing six sigma methodology, your organization should have more than 3.4 mistakes or defects per million opportunities. Keep in mind that a properly executing six sigma methodology is no simple undertaking—it requires total compliance across all levels of your organization. Following these guidelines to optimize your operations and inventory will reduce plastic waste and help your business save on costs.

Manage Excess Material

Even with an airtight operations strategy, some excess material is inevitable. Be sure to take care to recover these products so they may be re-purposed or recycled. Sort the usable excess plastic sheets, tubes, rods, or object based on its material, and recycle it accordingly. The best way to ensure that plastics are recycled properly is by implementing an easy to understand recycling policy and inform your entire workforce of the new recycling mandates.

Don’t confuse “easy to understand” with “simple.” Methods like single stream recycling will not optimize the amount of materials recycled. To ensure as a few resources as possible are wasted, workers should sort recycled materials before sending them to a recycling facility. Visual guides should inform your employees to wash recyclables with food waste and explain which types of items belong in each receptacle. Managing excess material property can take a while to implement properly, but once implementation has taken place, your organization will be able to handle plastics much more efficiently.

Understand the Difference in Plastics

Many plastics can be recycled or reused. You don’t need to be a plastics expert to know what variety of plastic you’re working with, either —-just took a look at the recycling symbols printed on your plastics, which suggests which material was used.

Keep an eye out for any High Density Polyethylene (HDPE), as this is one of the most commonly recycled plastics. This plastic is extremely hard-wearing and is able to tolerate a heat of about 250F without warping. Most of all, products made from HDPE sheets are simple to recycle. Some products that use HDPE include milk jugs and trash bins. This type of plastic can be used for a wide variety of products—HDPE is food safe, resistant to chemicals and solvents, and has a high tensile strength. When HDPE is recycled, it is re-purposed into all sorts valuable items—like outdoor furniture and food storage. In the past, PP was a difficult material to recycle—but thanks to strides in recycling technology, it is much more efficient to process today. Unfortunately, due to a lack of awareness and acceptance by MRFs, only about 2% of all Polypropylene is recycled per year. When recycled, PP can be re-purposed into useful items like storage containers and watering cans.

Understanding how plastics can be recycled is a good first step in creating a recycling program for your organization. Since various plastics are numbered, your organization can create a game plan for how to best recycle each kind of plastic whether that be partnering with organizations or adding them to curbside recycling.

Partner with Waste Management Organizations

While reducing plastic waste is not easy, it’s reassuring to know you’re not on your own. Many organizations have potential to help your business take better control of their plastic waste. For example, many recycling facilities do not have the resources to ensure that all recyclable waste is properly recycled. That’s why Costa, the UK’s largest coffee chain, began paying an additional $93 per ton of coffee cups to their waste management company. They hope that by supplementing their waste pickup, the waste management company will be able to tweak their processes and maximize the amount of coffee cups recycled. Costa doesn’t just further their sustainability goals by making this effort—they also inspire change across industries.

In addition to these efforts, be sure to choose your waste management company carefully. Ideally, try to keep your recycling efforts in immediate regions. Many low-cost waste management solutions ship plastic waste overseas to be recycled, but in some cases these plastics are not recycled at all. Instead, waste management companies in countries with lax dumpling laws may dump waste into local rivers and coastlines, contributing to the unfortunate level of plastic waste in our oceans. If your organization is unable to recycle either in or around the countries its based in, they try shipping your recyclable products to countries that are receiving the aid of groups like Circulate Capital or Nextwave who have mission to innovate and improve plastics management in countries with lax dumping laws.

Finally, don’t forget that one person’s trash is another person’s treasure. Your excess plastic materials can connect with other businesses that are concerned with sustainability and can reuse your plastic waste. For example, an insulation company may be more than happy to take your used polystyrene packaging and re-purpose it as effective insulation. By partnering with other responsible organizations, your organization can help create a more sustainable world.

Final Thoughts

Optimizing your organization’s plastic sustainability program is not a simple or easy process due to the unique nature of every organization. Don’t let the complexity of this challenge intimidate you. Be aware your organization has taken a huge step just by taking the initiative to become more sustainable. With these four tips, your organization can take its first strides towards recycling more plastics, improving sustainability, and making a positive impact on the ecosystem.