Sustainability Insights / 05.16.2024

Sustainability Insights by Maddie Carlson (May 2024)

Sustainability Insights by Maddie Carlson

Sustainability Insights by Maddie Carlson (May 2024) - Image

Sustainability Insights by Maddie Carlson

Not In My Backyard

What if your next-door neighbor was a landfill? Studies show the common environmental response to that question is “not in my backyard.” The truth is that most people participate in environmentally damaging practices as long as the impact lands outside their radius, you know, in someone else’s backyard.

From the manufacturing design perspective, how different would processes and products look if the excess materials were to remain on-site? My guess is that this would be resolved before production. An “after the fact” waste program is costly and can only do so much. Representing that an item can be recycled, when in fact it cannot, is often just greenwashing. And only a small percentage of consumers will do the research. I am one of them.

We’re all familiar with the three Rs: Reduce, Reuse, Recycle. But it’s crucial to remember that this is not just a list of environmental practices; it’s a hierarchy. Our first priority should be to reduce our consumption of plastics, primary metals, and excess materials on the products we design and manufacture. Once waste is minimized when making a part or product, we can move on to reusing available parts and materials. Only as a last resort should we move usable materials to recycling. This can be accomplished by creating a lifecycle of product analysis to help guide a waste-first production process. Stay tuned for the June Sustainability Insights about life cycle analysis.

It is less known, but there is a fourth R – Remove. While it is unlikely that removing key components is an option for manufacturers, it does offer a new way of thinking. How can we use the first 3 Rs to the fullest extent so we don’t have to choose between landfill and Remove?

While hopefully, we will never have to keep manufacturing byproducts on-site, making space for waste is still necessary for recycling and waste reduction. Getting the best value for materials, or even whether it can be recycled at all, highly depends on the level of separation from other materials. Designating space to increase the value of by-products generated at a manufacturing facility to separate and store materials is essential for a manufacturing floor plan, but often overlooked.

Waste is always an afterthought, if even a thought at all, that needs to change unless of course, you want a landfill for a neighbor.

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