Lean Six Sigma is a well-known business practice that has helped many organizations improve their performance by systematically removing waste. Lean tools and principles are very effective in helping organizations and can help improve your recycling program achieve your waste diversion goals. One of the Lean processes that can easily be implemented by any organization is the Gemba Walk. Gemba is a Japanese term that means “the real place”.  In business Gemba refers to the place where value is created. In a manufacturing facility the Gemba is the factory floor. Gemba empowers you to: a) See - where the flow of value is being interrupted (waste) b) Do - take the right action, based on what has been observed. The Gemba walk identifies if there is a process in place, whether it is being followed and whether it can be improved.

Improve your recycling program with Gemba in 5 easy steps:

1. Identify your current process

Identify what your current recycling program consists of, for example is it simply a blue bin at everyone’s desk, or do you have a more sophisticated central location recycling program?

2. Schedule a Gemba walk

Gemba walks are normally scheduled but can be impromptu if the opportunity arises. Gather a small group of people from across the organization including employees who are involved in your recycling program and those who are not - to help you gain a fresh perspective on the program.

3. Assess the current situation

The Gemba walk is used to make observations about the recycling program and how it’s working. Here are some questions the team can address on the walk:
  • Are the recycling containers in the right location to make it easy for people to use?
  • Are people placing the materials in the correct waste containers?
  • Are the recycling bins overflowing with waste?
  • Does your custodial team use clean bags for your recyclables?
    • If not, how can they effectively separate the waste from the recyclables and compost for the waste hauler?
  • Ask members from your custodial team about their concerns and frustrations with the current program.
  • Ask the people using the bins for their feedback on how easy they are to use and if they have any suggested improvements.
While on the walk observe people’s behaviors when they approach the bins to see whether they are hesitant or confident in their decision when they dispose of their waste.

4. Identify Low Hanging Fruit

improve your recycling program Use the information gathered in the Gemba walk to identify the top one or two opportunities that would have the most impact for the least amount of effort. For example, if you identified that you collect a large volume of aluminum cans in the waste stream this is a great opportunity to recycle more waste by simply focusing on that one item. If you discovered that your waste and recycling containers are becoming separated resulting in people using the nearest bin for convenience rather than the right bin, you may want to invest in containers that collect all the streams in one place. This will help you collect more recyclable materials.
[caption id="attachment_1269" align="alignnone" width="200"]Seperate stream containers Separate stream containers[/caption] [caption id="attachment_1271" align="alignnone" width="200"]One container for all streams One container for all streams[/caption]

5. Communicate for success

When you’ve made changes to your recycling program based on the Gemba walk, make sure you communicate these changes to your customers and employees. For example, use posters near to the recycling bins to tell people that aluminum cans should be discarded into the recycling stream and include facts on how this positively affects the environment. If you purchased new containers do a program launch with table toppers, posters, and company announcements to let everyone know about the new program and where the bins are located so they can use the program properly. Don’t forget to repeat the Gemba walk on a regular basis to ensure that the changes made to the process have been implemented and maintained. This will help you create a culture of continuous improvement and empower you to reach your sustainability goals. By Hugh Caines - CleanRiver General Manager For more information on how you can use Lean principles to improve your recycling program contact hugh.caines@cleanriver.com or call 1-888-646-4246. Waste Audit, facility Manager, Facility managers, recycling program