Step 1: Consumer-facing
Educate your consumers about the costs of disposable products that aren’t reparable, recyclable, or compostable, and end up in the landfill.
Create thoughtful ways for customers to come to a final purchase decision that limits unnecessary returns.
If samples are an important driver of your business, design a sampling process that allows for temporary rental/returns, or design samples and packaging to be recyclable rather than disposable (easy to separate components for proper recycling).
Step 2: Design
Design to minimize waste by focusing on using less material, efficient use of raw materials, or additive technology like 3D printing that eliminates waste.
Start material specification by looking for natural or bioplastic materials that will naturally biodegrade when discarded.
If fully natural materials isn’t possible, design with non-composite materials that can be recycled or upcycled into a new product at the end of their lifespan. Metals are infinitely recyclable. While plastics are technically recyclable, they degrade with each time, and only PET (#1) and HDPE (#2) are reliably recycled, so aim to specify those where plastic is required.
Step 3: Deconstructability
Consider launching a takeback program for products at end of life to ensure reuse/ recycling of any materials that can’t be disposed via typical municipal recycling.
Use mechanical hardware/joins for fastening/adhering in lieu of glues/adhesives that prevent separation.
Encourage repair over repurchase, and if it doesn’t exist, institute a parts component shipping program for repairs.
Provide the necessary tools and instruction, or provide resources to complete repairs for your customers.
During the design phase, consider how to make deconstruction for product repairs or end of life recycling easy.
Avoid hardware with non-standard components.
Step 4: Manufacturing / Fabrication
Consider manufacturing on-demand products if possible, or smaller volume fabrication increments to reduce waste.
Reuse material. This means creating methods of capturing waste materials, allocating space for storage, and potentially machinery or tools that allow for reuse. Alternatively, recycle or redistribute (see below).
Recycle excess material. Contact your local waste management provider to find out if any of your waste materials are recyclable and set up a collection process.
Where reuse or recycling isn’t possible, redistribute raw materials or imperfect product for another use (internal or external to your company). Research other local manufacturers who may have a use for your waste stream, and reach out. This may even create a financially beneficial relationship.
Step 5: Packaging / Shipping
Package your goods in recyclable, compostable, or reusable materials.
Reuse or recycle the packaging elements you receive from your suppliers (i.e. plastic bags, boxes, ties).
Reach out to your suppliers to ask them to package more efficiently, and eliminate non-recyclable or non-compostable materials.
Offer no-rush shipping options that utilize ground/ocean freight to minimize the carbon footprint of shipping. Avoid shipping by air unless necessary to minimize the carbon footprint of your shipping.
Step 6: At the office and on-site
Set up a three-bin system (compost, recycling, landfill). Establish a point person to ensure items get sorted properly.
Post guidelines from your local waste management company to eliminate contamination (yes, a sheet of paper is okay to prevent contaminated recycling).