Resource Efficiency in Plastics Processing
Part 2 - Manufacturing - Targeting Efforts





The second in a series of Worksheets by Jonathan Churchman-Davies and Dr. Robin Kent for Envirowise on Resource Efficiency in the Plastics Industry.

UK Government Environment and Energy Helpline 0800 585 794

Short term results

In the short term (0 - 2 years), manufacturing is the key area and the key task is improving resource efficiency in operations by targeting the efforts on the areas with the most return.

This involves:

Targeting the efforts means changing the emphasis from reducing labour costs to more important areas. It means keeping the labour and sacking the kilogrammes (materials costs) and kilowatt-hours (utilities costs).

Keep the labour - sack the kilogrammes and kilowatt-hours.

Targeting the efforts means designing the product so that the manufacturing process uses less process materials, energy, water and other resources. Cleaner design focuses on the product to reduce waste and pollution during manufacture. This increases profits, increases resource efficiency and reduces the environmental impacts of production.

Cleaner products

Cleaner design reduces the amount of materials used and changes the type of materials used, actions that both directly reduce the product cost.
Reducing the amount of material used is a fundamental of good design and is not unique to cleaner design - techniques such as Value Engineering based on a full Product Design Specification, computer based mould design and Taguchi methods should be used to generate robust designs that deliver the functions that the customer has specified whilst using the least material.

Cleaner design also looks at the type and number of materials used. Correct materials selection will create designs that meet the requirements of both the existing and the future legislation, e.g. easier disassembly and increased potential for recycling. Increasing the use of recycled materials can often significantly reduce the product cost with no detrimental effect on product properties or performance. As an additional benefit, using recycled materials will also reduce the overall environmental impact of the product.

Correct materials selection involves the use of materials that result in reduced waste and reduce energy consumption during manufacture and reduce or eliminate the use of hazardous materials during production.

Reducing the number of components and materials used will reduce raw material and assembly costs (an area for significant cost savings) and increase the recyclability of the final product.

The second, and most neglected area is the design of products to minimise the consumables needed and used during manufacture. Reducing production costs by product designs that use less energy, water or create less waste during manufacture not only reduces operating costs but also improves environmental performance. The next generation of product designers needs to consider not only the raw materials used but also the other consumables used during manufacture. Cleaner design considers the whole of the product and gives:

Cleaner manufacturing

The design defines the manufacturing process used and any modern production process has significant environmental impacts. Cleaner design is design for both manufacture and assembly to:

Designing the product so that less pollution and waste occur during manufacture will also reduce local environmental impacts and may lead to safer working conditions for employees.

‘Minimising the number of manufacturing steps enables the company to
stay in business by taking out cost while keeping functionality.’
Marconi Applied Technologies

Answering the following questions will help to identify potential areas for improvement:

Tip: Ask the production director for information and talk to operators about the sources of unnecessary waste.

Tip: Calculate the resource consumption and environmental impacts of different components or production processes. Review the product design to reduce these.

Manufacturing and the impacts it generates are not separate processes in cleaner design; they are integral to the process of reducing the cost and environmental impact.

Targeting the efforts

Targeting the efforts means a renewed focus on the cost of materials and the controllable overheads. The short-term actions should be:

Starting work

The route map sets out the drivers, strategies, tactics and results necessary. Use these as a guide to improving profitability and reducing the environmental impacts. Cleaner design is an integral part of good business practice to reduce costs, maintain competitive advantage and demonstrate the benefits of good environmental performance. Being good to the environment is business common sense.

The route map



  • Continued profitability and survival.

  • Increasing resource costs (e.g. Climate Change Levy) as an incentive for reducing resource usage.

  • Increasing disposal costs (e.g. Landfill Taxes) as an incentive for reducing resource disposal.
  • Integrated Product Policy (scheduled for the near future) drives consistent approach to resource usage and products.
  • Increasing environmental legislation from the EU and the UK.
  • Improve relative resource efficiency for all resources used.

  • Reduce the amount of resources used in absolute terms, e.g. materials, energy efficiency, waste minimisation.

  • Introduce Cleaner Design concepts at the design level to reduce future costs.



  • Survey, measure and target the real resource usage costs.

  • Work with customers to reduce materials usage and costs.
  • Benchmark real resource costs against competitors to set future targets for reduced resource usage.
  • Seek and implement the available free Government help from Envirowise.
  • Invest in improved technology to reduce resource usage.

  • Real cost savings from improved resource efficiency.

  • Energy bills reduced by 10-20% from no-cost and low-cost measures.

  • Cost of waste reduced by 25% from no-cost and low-cost measures.

  • Profits improved by 25-30%.

More Information

Available free from the Environment and Energy Helpline (0800 585 794) or can be downloaded from this site.

'Resource Efficiency' Series.

The 'Resource Efficiency' series is designed to give plastics processors a route map to the future for the plastics industry. The series is:

Part 1: Resource Efficiency
Part 2: Manufacturing - Targeting Efforts
(This Section)
Part 3: Use - Optimising Usage

Part 4: End-of-Life - Minimising Outputs

Part 5: Raw Materials - Minimising Inputs

Part 6: Distribution - The Essential Link


Download the complete series as an Adobe Acrobat file.


Last edited: 11/03/10

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