Improved material efficiency is a key to improve the circular economy and capturing value in industry. Material efficiency reduces the generation of industrial waste, the extraction and consumption of resources, and energy demands and carbon emissions. However, material efficiency in the manufacturing sector, as a means of improving the recyclability, reusability, reduction and prevention of industrial waste, is little understood. This study aims to investigate, on a micro-level, further material efficiency improvement opportunities, barriers and strategies in selected manufacturing companies in Sweden, focusing on increasing waste segregation into high quality circulated raw material. Improvement opportunities at large global manufacturing companies are investigated; barriers hindering material efficiency improvement are identified and categorized at two levels; and strategies that have been deployed at manufacturing companies are reviewed. Empirical findings reveal (1) further potential for improving material efficiency through higher segregation of residual material from mixed and low quality fractions (on average, 26% of the content of combustible waste, in weight, was plastics; 8% and 6% were paper and cardboard, respectively); (2) the most influential barriers are within budgetary, information, management, employee, engineering, and communication clusters; (3) a lack of actual material efficiency strategy implementation in the manufacturing companies. According to our analysis, the majority of barriers are internal and originate within the manufacturing companies, therefore they can be managed (and eradicated if possible) with sufficient resources in terms of man hours, education and investment, better operational and environmental (waste) management, better internal communication and information sharing, and deployment of material efficiency strategies.
2016. Vol. 127, 438-450 p.