Sustainability. It’s not a choice. Especially since, according to World Bank Open Data, manufacturing causes 20% of global carbon emissions. What sustainability looks like will vary from industry to industry, but a common concept is circularity. British manufacturing has circularity high on its agenda to help achieve government net-zero targets. But what changes are we likely to see from this initiative?
Goodbye to ‘take – make – dispose’
The concept of ‘take – make – dispose’ should become a thing of the past. We know that extracting resources from the Earth can destroy habitats, cause erosion and contaminate soil/water. Equally, the concept of disposing makes many of us think of toxins leaching into rivers, wildlife being strangled by plastic and landfill sites emitting greenhouse gases.
Reduce, reuse, recycle is now a household mantra that is also key to how manufacturing operates with circularity.
In manufacturing the ‘reduce’ element typically focuses on driving efficiency and using less to make more. This might focus on using less energy or maintaining equipment properly so it doesn’t need replacing so often. With so much more data available through in-house systems and wider data sharing initiatives, it is becoming easier to understand where inefficiencies lie in processes and even to quantify particular product carbon footprints.
Reuse as a concept
Reuse in manufacturing has produced some inspirational examples such as car life spans being extended by having their combustion engines removed and being turned into electric vehicles. Product life cycles are being considered a lot more and we’re seeing a rise in the manufacture of products that can be rented, re-sold and re-manufactured.
Pre- and post- production recycling
Recycling can manifest itself in two ways. Responsible sourcing of materials that avoids raw materials wherever possible and industrial recycling for waste that is produced. Thankfully, innovation has resulted in many more products being able to be recycled. However, there is still some way to go on creating a full suite of recycled products that can equal their virgin alternatives in terms of cost and price.
Digital and technological advances
It’s a comforting thought that across the world there are teams of entrepreneurs and scientists looking for breakthroughs that will help manufacturers reduce, reuse and recycle. We are keeping our eyes peeled.
Interestingly, it’s not always about the new – sometimes traditional methods make a resurgence. Certainly, we’ve had a lot of recent interest in gravity conveyors which use no electricity, simply gravity to transport items between different floors.