Where’s the Waste? Identifying Recycling Sources in Manufacturing Waste Streams

Because we specialize in helping businesses like manufacturing and distribution facilities increase recycling and reduce waste to landfill, we are celebrating Earth Day 2016 by sharing common recycling sources found in manufacturing plants’ waste streams.

Inbound Shipments

Manufacturing companies require ingredients, supplies, or parts to make whatever product they are manufacturing. Likely, these materials come to the manufacturing facility in bulk shipments. Here are a few recycling opportunities that might enter the waste stream as a result.

Waste Sources - Shipping

  1. Slip Sheets & Corner Boards – Supplies that come stacked on pallets often have thin, flexible pieces of paperboard (known as slip sheets) separating each layer. Similar material is used to make corner boards, pieces that keep edges and corners from getting dented or scratched in transit. These items are often recyclable and should be added to a cardboard or paper recycling stream depending the recycling program in place.
  2. Pallets  – Many bulk supply orders come packaged on pallets. Often made of wood or plastic, pallets can sometimes be collected for reuse or recycled into new products.
  3. Gaylord Boxes– Typically made of plastic or cardboard, Gaylord boxes are frequently used for shipping items and can often be collected for reuse or recycling.
  4. Strapping – If supplies do not come inside a container, they often are secured using some kind of disposable strapping. For instance, items that are palletized usually contain a plastic strapping to secure them to the pallet during transit. These strappings can sometimes be collected for recycling.
  5. Wrapping – Similar to strapping, plastic wrap or other binding agents also are used to secure loose items to a pallet. Manufacturers should check with their recycling vendor to determine recycling opportunities for these materials at their facility.
  6. Drums, Supersacks, & Other Shipping Containers – Plastic and metal drums, or other bulk shipping containers like cardboard boxes and Supersacks, often are recyclable.

Manufacturing Process

Even lean manufacturing processes contain opportunities for recyclables to enter the waste stream. Here are a few common recycling sources.

  1. Ingredient/Supply Packaging – In addition to the shipping containers we mentioned previously, manufacturing supplies and ingredients typically have additional packaging layers leftover as waste once the product inside has been used. Manufacturers looking to increase recycling rates at their facilities should check with their recycler to see if any ingredient or supply packaging can be recycled.
  2. Out of Spec. Product – It’s common for products themselves to become waste at manufacturing facilities. These are usually items that no longer meet required specifications for resale. Depending on the product being manufactured, the reason for the product not meeting required specifications, and the location of the manufacturing facility, there may be significant diversion opportunities for recycling these items.
  3. Overflow & Leftover Parts – Sometimes a company orders too much of something and sometimes materials spill over during the manufacturing process. If this excess material can be collected, it might be recyclable.
  4. Out of Spec. Ingredients/Parts – Sometimes the parts or supplies manufacturers order arrive broken or pass their expiration date. In other instances, a company might make changes to their manufacturing process or product, requiring different parts and making the old supplies obsolete. Manufacturers can check with their recycling service provider to see what recycling opportunities might exist for these supplies.


Before a final product can be sold, it might go through a packaging and shipping process. This can include placing multiple finished items in bulk containers, adding labeling, or any other finishing touches. Here are some waste sources to look for during this process:

  1. Out of Spec. Packaging – Similar to out of spec. products and ingredients, it’s not uncommon for manufacturers to have out of spec. packaging materials in their waste streams. This might be the result of damaged materials, mislabeling, or updated branding and marketing designs. Whatever the reason for these materials entering the waste stream, out of spec. packaging materials sometimes offer great recycling opportunities.
  2. Out of Spec. Packaged Product – Sometimes finished products undergo repackaging before quality control notices a problem with the product or its packaging. While recycling these materials may be more difficult due to their multiple components, when manufacturers can find recycling opportunities for these items, it can go a long way towards increasing their diversion rates.
  3. Leftover Packaging Materials – Whether it’s label backing or the butt of a paper roll, packaging materials leave their own leftover waste stream which often can be collected for recycling.

Over the years, we’ve found even the most environmentally friendly and sustainability oriented manufacturing companies produce waste. These are just a few places to look for recycling sources in manufacturing waste streams. To learn more about recycling opportunities at your company, contact us today.