Waste Reduction, Not Waste Management

Dusty Bottles - This image is CC0!

What would you prefer, having less waste in your life, or managing your waste better? I may assume, that your answer will be “less waste.” In order to achieve this, you need to understand waste. And you need to know, how to eliminate it.

Earlier I have introduced the definition of waste as everything that does not help to create value. Of course, this makes the understanding of waste relative to the values you have defined for your live.

I want to start with my earlier discussion of emptying the dishwasher. You might say that a clean kitchen is not very important to you. Then it would be fine to understand even filling the dishwasher as a kind of waste. For the sake of discussion assume you always pile up your kitchen with dirty dishes. Usually you do not find a clean piece quickly. Now you want to prepare dinner for some dear guests. You will start running around, organizing whatever is clean until you discover most of the stuff is dirty. You begin to clean everything you need, discovering crusted dirt and disgusting mould everywhere. Until you have cleaned your kitchen and discover that you are feeling sick and have only fifteen minutes to prepare your dinner. No look again at the initial question, whether emptying the dishwasher is waste or not.

Eliminate or reduce?

It seems there may be different classes of waste, and Lean Self provides a definition. Painted in broad strokes, there are two types of waste:

  1. Avoidable waste that simply does not add value or even destroys it
  2. Waste that is unavoidable

The first class of waste is something that should be avoided wherever possible. You could also say this is about doing the wrong things. The second class of waste cannot be completely avoided, so here the goal is to reduce it as much as possible. This is about doing the right things as efficiently as possible.

These two classes give you a simple hierarchy of waste. If in doubt, your continuous improvement should first start with identifying and reducing avoidable waste.

There may be things you would call waste at first assessment, because they do not directly add value. What about reading this post? It does not directly add value. Following the strict definition you might call reading this post waste. However, it is something else: It helps you to reduce waste and create value in the long run. Let us call such activities “enabling.” With one caveat: enabling yourself and others needs to be efficient, too. Otherwise, it will imply waste as well.

Enabling activities do not directly create value, but they are not waste.

Calling waste avoidable or unavoidable is not enough to identify and remove it. This is why the 7+1 types of wasteare so important.

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