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How to Reduce Waste in a Warehouse

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Reduce Waste in a Warehouse - Recycle bin
Vince Montanaro
Vince Montanaro
June 23, 2023

Figuring out how to reduce waste in a warehouse space will save money and reduce your company's carbon footprint. Reducing warehouse waste goes beyond recycling and can include reevaluating your company's processes and layout. From actionable items to company-wide culture, there are many ways to help minimize the amount of waste in your warehouse.

Reduce, Reuse, and Recycle

Employees picking up boxes

Reducing production is an excellent first step in reducing waste. All you have to do is match supply to demand. Overproduction results not only in excess inventory but also in wasted space. More inventory requires more employee time and puts more wear and tear on equipment like forklifts. Produce and purchase according to data-based demand forecasts instead of manager instinct to avoid overproduction. If it is right for your operation, implementing just-in-time or lean manufacturing can help solve this problem. Making your inventory strategy and supply chain as transparent as possible is another strategy to help mitigate excess inventory.

As well as updating inventory management, the reduction can include systemic ways to minimize your warehouse's carbon footprint. Enacting paperless processes ensures more accurate information and significantly reduces paper waste. Switching out low-efficiency lighting for LED light bulbs reduces energy waste. Establishing a compost program for the break room's food scraps is another way to reduce waste going to landfills.

If you reduce consumption, explore options to reuse an item. The possibilities for reuse look different depending on your operation. Cardboard is commonly used as an example of a versatile reusable element. Cultivating a reusing culture could also resemble eschewing disposable cups for reusable ones in the break room. If you cannot find a way to reuse an item, try to choose a recyclable material.

The best way to encourage recycling is to make it as convenient as possible. Begin by installing recycling waste receptacles in any room that processes waste. While it may be tempting to have several sorting containers with exhaustive labels, recycling should take as little brainpower as possible. That means using simple labels and being aware of your waste collector's recycling services. If your waste collector does not require pre-sorting, there is no need to include five separate receptacles in your recycling lineup.

Moving Product

Employees moving boxes

An effort is exerted every time a product (or pallet of product) is moved. To ensure that effort is well-spent, find ways to make every move count. Tackling overproduction is essential -- if there is less product, there is less to move out of the way. Evaluating your warehouse's pallets, processes, and layout can also improve efficiency.

Of course, exploring how to reduce waste in a warehouse continues inside the facility. Transportation waste, or needlessly moving products between warehouses, generates much-wasted fuel, time, and space. To prevent this, streamline your supply chain so products experience the fewest stops possible.

Pairing your products with the right pallets is an important step toward efficiency. Like most wooden products, pallets contain moisture. More moisture means increased weight. A heavier pallet results in additional fuel usage with no apparent benefit. Discerning the difference between kiln dried vs pressure treated pallets can help you determine the best pallets for your operation.

Your products are not the only items that need to be moved. Does your facility have efficient waste disposal? A garbage compacter might be an advantageous investment depending on how much and what kinds of waste your facility produces. By compacting it, your waste requires less space. This, in turn, means more waste can be hauled away per load.

Moving Employees

A product's lifecycle within your warehouse is only one piece of the puzzle. Processes that require employees to move unnecessarily from one part of the warehouse to another result in wasted time and energy. You should redesign tasks or evaluate the warehouse layout to reduce this waste.

The tasks themselves may also be contributing to wasted potential. Extraneous motions or steps in a process result in over-processing waste. How can you tell if there are wasteful steps in a task? Simply ask if each action adds value. Ask your frontline workers for input to maximize efficiency and minimize waste as you redesign tasks or your warehouse layout.

Optimizing Products

Often, there is a great deal of waste within your products and their inputs. This waste is usually in the form of superfluous packaging materials. Suppliers often send packaging shipments that work well for them but might not fit with your waste reduction mission. Your warehouse employees must then unwrap and dispose of a great deal of packaging that frequently cannot even be recycled. To change this, start by having a conversation with your suppliers. Ask if they can provide recyclable packaging or even return their packaging. If these are not possible, try to reuse the packaging within your processes.

Leveraging Time

High labor costs mean that wasted time is costly. To confirm that time is being used efficiently, conduct a waste audit of the time used in all your warehouse processes. This will make hidden problems visible and consequently possible to fix. Establishing a regularly repeating time audit promises continuous improvement.

Machine time counts too. If machinery in your warehouse breaks down, how much waste will there be? To prevent equipment breakdowns, be sure to implement preventative maintenance programs. Beyond reducing downtime, you might save money on excessive expedited shipping costs for repair parts needed after the machinery breaks down.

Creating a Culture of Waste Reduction

Company discussing about recycling

As you explore how to reduce waste in a warehouse, you may need to change the company culture at an organizational level. Instituting formal waste management company programs is the first step to a more efficient organization. Introducing these programs with fun incentives and exciting prizes will help more people get on board. These can include rewarding the team who recycles the most or holding a contest to find the best waste-reduction idea.

To begin reshaping your company into a minimal waste machine, you can begin by looking at your processes, products, and suppliers. Start conversing with customers to find out what adds value to your products. Talk to suppliers to explore which waste-free packaging materials are options for you. Connect with a pallet making company to discover how much waste you could be prevented simply by using pallets that match your needs.