Special Feature on the Environment, Part II "Murata's Waste Management Systems"

2/14/2011
Basic

Category: For the EARTH
"When it's all mixed together, it's garbage, but when it's separated, it's resources." While true, have we reached the limit with this approach?
One of the supervisors in charge of solid waste makes some critical points.

Hi there! I'm in charge of solid waste management at one of the divisions of the Murata Manufacturing Group.

Solid waste management is a job that is done behind the scenes in our company and is something that's usually not exposed to the light of day. However, since I now have the opportunity, I want to say a few words about the work we do.

During the 12 months of fiscal 2009, the Murata Manufacturing Group (in Japan) produced approximately 30,000 tons of solid waste. This is equivalent to as many as eight 10-ton truckloads of waste being carted off every day. How to reduce this amount of solid waste is the big question for us.
I would like to share with you how we tackle the reduction of solid waste and the kind of problems we confront.

I expect that you will all have heard of the "3Rs" in solid waste reduction, but did you know that there's an order of precedence in these 3Rs?
The 3Rs are <1> reduce, <2> reuse and <3> recycle. However, under Japan's Basic Act for Establishing a Sound Material-cycle Society, reductions in solid waste are to be considered as having the following order of precedence: <1> reduce, followed by <2> reuse, followed by <3> recycle.
 
We want to follow this order of precedence as we move forward with reducing solid waste, but <1> reducing and <2> reusing require us to review the materials and production lines we use, which is not something that those of us in charge of solid waste management can tackle on our own. On top of this, problems with cost, quality and technology have to be resolved, and the reality is that we're not making much progress at all.

As a consequence, tackling <3> recycling has inevitably become the focus of our efforts. In order to reduce solid waste through recycling, it is necessary to separate out the solid waste by composition and get the materials manufacturers to buy it as valuable resources. However, even if we separate out the solid waste, we still cannot sell it as valuable resources if there is no demand for it, so the key point is to find manufacturers who are willing to buy it from us as valuable resources.

We have been reducing solid waste by gathering various kinds of information and tracking down manufacturers who are willing to buy it from us as valuable resources, but the fact remains that not all solid waste is recyclable as valuable resources. Moreover, even if we do find manufacturers who are willing to buy it from us, there are other problems to solve. For instance, the cost of transporting the waste to a manufacturer located at a distance from our plants may end up being so high that the 'valuable resources' may end up with no value left. There are also times when the business climate or market rates for materials may reduce the resources that once were valuable to being solid waste again. Consequently, we feel that there are limits to 3R activities that are based solely on <3> recycling.

As I mentioned before, to radically reduce solid waste, the raw materials and production processes must be reviewed, and <1> reduction activities must be promoted. The Murata Manufacturing Group is giving its best effort to conserve resources by making its products smaller and their functions more sophisticated, but reducing solid waste is far from easy. To this end, those in charge of development and production must have a raised consciousness concerning solid waste reductions, and they must be convinced to develop products and design production lines with these reductions in mind. The problems to be surmounted are very deep-rooted, so we would like to see everyone pulling together and working toward achieving the lofty goal of protecting the global environment.