Waste Minimisation in Plastics Processing - Part 2
Waste Walk Around and Action Plan




The second in a series of waste minimisation worksheets by Dr. Robin Kent for Envirowise to help the plastics industry reduce costs through waste minimisation.

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The Waste Walk-Around

Waste is all around your business and some companies put up signs declaring 'STOP WASTE'. This is treats us all unfairly because most people would stop waste if only they knew where to look. The signs should really read 'FIND WASTE' because only after finding waste can you really start to stop it. 

The first step in your waste minimisation programme is to start to find the waste in your business and the best tool for this is to carry out a waste walk-around. The objective is to gain an overview of the processes and to identify some rapid no-cost or low-cost improvements that can be made to save money.

The survey should be carried out as soon as possible - waste is happening now and it is costing you money now. Take an unannounced walk around the site at mid-shift. If there is no night shift it can also be profitable to take a walk around the factory when there is no production being carried out. Always look in your skips - it is an excellent starter for locating waste!

Reducing waste by no-cost and low-cost measures will significantly increase profits.

Simple no-cost and low-cost money saving ideas

Eliminate, reduce, re-use, recycle, dispose

The waste ‘hierarchy’ is most important: first eliminate the source of waste, then reduce the amount, then re-use any waste that does arise, then recycle the waste and only when these have been eliminated should we dispose of the waste.

  • Identify the various waste streams produced on-site. The diagram gives an outline of the typical inputs and outputs during plastics processing as guidance.
    Optimise waste segregation and recycling to minimise the amount of waste requiring disposal.
  • Avoid contaminating waste polymer as this lowers its value.
  • Estimate the true cost of waste. For example, the cost of waste polymer is not just the disposal cost, but includes the purchase cost of the polymer and the embodied processing costs.

Materials management

  • Avoid spills by improving storage and polymer handling techniques.
  • Record polymer utilisation wherever possible and track any variations.
  • Monitor how much polymer has to be reground and how much is returned from your contract recycler.
  • Review product design. Could less polymer be used? Could waste polymer, e.g. in sprues, be reduced? Could a cheaper polymer be used?
  • Minimise the need for polymer recovery, regrinding and re-use. Apart from the additional processing, transport and administration costs, converting the recovered
  • polymer into saleable product occupies process time that could be used to make more product.
  • Plan production to minimise changeover losses.
  • Establish total material loss over a given period. Compare this with the utilisation rate to find the relative importance of process and material handling losses.


  • Re-use any packaging for your products, where appropriate.
  • Discuss ways of minimising packaging use with both suppliers and customers.


  • Make everyone is aware of water costs.
  • Remind everyone to turn off taps.
  • Repair all dripping taps as soon as possible.
  • Check for leaks in the water system.
  • Make sure hot water is not above 60°C.
  • Make someone responsible for switching off hot water heaters before holidays.
  • Check that your hot water control system is set properly (stop heating one hour before the end of daily work).
  • Fit time switches to immersion heaters.
  • Fit flush controls to urinal systems in all men’s toilets.
  • Fit trigger controls to hosepipes.

Typical inputs and outputs in plastics processing

Utility management

  • Implement no-cost and low-cost methods of improving energy efficiency. For example, insulating jackets on heated moulds can reduce energy losses and improve safety. The previous series of Worksheets on Energy Management covers energy efficient plastics processing in detail. Failure to manage energy is a waste of energy.
  • Review hydraulic oil purchase, storage, handling and disposal procedures.
  • Consider the benefits to oil lifetime of installing bypass filters in all hydraulic equipment.

Other measures

  • Ensure machines are suitable for the processes being carried out, set-up to obtain optimum polymer and energy consumption, and maintained regularly.
  • Ensure employees are trained and understand the effects of their actions. Employees are vital to the success of waste segregation. Employees also need to be made aware that, while regrinding waste polymer saves the company money, it does mean additional costs.

Your Action Plan

  • Once you are looking for waste, your walk-around should have identified some obvious areas for improvement. You can now make some ‘fast starts’ to reduce waste in these areas.
  • Monitor the amount of polymer used on each machine, how much is reground and how much is sent off-site for reprocessing or final disposal. Monitor utility and packaging usage.
  • Find out where and why waste polymer is being generated by your process. Getting it ‘Right First Time’ is the easiest way of increasing your profits.
  • Record your starting position and publicise improvements to both motivate employees and maintain commitment for the initiative from senior management.
  • If you don’t measure, you can’t manage.

"Waste Minimisation" Series.

The "Waste Minimisation" series is designed to give plastics processors an insight into how to minimise wasting  valuable resources. The series is being published in British Plastics and Rubber on a monthly basis and published here after the BP&R publication. The series is:

Part 1: The Business Reasons

Part 2: A Waste Walk Around and Action Plan (This Section)

Part 3: Assessing Performance

Part 4: Improving Performance

Part 5: Waste Minimisation Tools


Download the complete series as an Adobe Acrobat file.


Last edited: 11/03/10

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