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Lean

Lean & Chemicals Toolkit: Executive Summary

This Lean and Chemicals Toolkit describes practical strategies for using Lean manufacturing—the production system developed by Toyota—to reduce chemical wastes while improving the operational and environmental performance of manufacturing and industrial businesses. As used in this toolkit, “chemical waste” refers to any aspect of chemical use and management that does not add value from a customer’s perspective, including:

  • Excess or unnecessary use of chemicals
  • Use of hazardous chemicals that could harm human health, worker safety, and/or the environment
  • Hazardous wastes generated from production and the disposal of products

This toolkit is a supplement to EPA’s Lean and Environment Toolkit, which addresses all types of environmental wastes.

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Disclaimer about Waste Definitions

Environmental Waste

This resource describes techniques that can generally reduce regulatory compliance burdens by removing or minimizing regulated materials, wastes, and releases from facilities. However, this document is not intended to provide specific information or advice about a facility’s compliance with any regulations or laws. This document also recommends involving staff with environmental health and safety (EHS) expertise in operational changes at facilities to maximize chemical waste reductions and to assist with compliance with environmental, health, and safety regulations. EHS staff should contact the appropriate regulatory authorities for more information about compliance requirements.

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Hazardous Waste

This resource uses the term “hazardous waste” to refer to any compound containing chemicals that require safe disposal. This term is used to define a broad range of waste streams; these “wastes” are not necessarily the same as those classified under the Resource Conservation and Recovery Act (RCRA), the law and regulations that govern the management and disposal of wastes. The law and regulations include a specific definition of the term “hazardous waste” and that definition should not be confused with the general terminology used in this document. In addition, this document does not provide information or advice about identifying regulatory hazardous wastes or complying with the hazardous waste regulations. You should contact the appropriate regulatory agencies for information about the hazardous waste regulations applicable to your organization or facility.

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Why Address Chemical Wastes with Lean

Benefits from addressing chemical wastes through Lean implementation:

  • Learn to see the hidden costs of chemical wastes. Although often buried in overhead costs, chemical wastes can have major costs for businesses. Effective Lean and chemical management strategies can drastically reduce costs, risks, and safety hazards.
  • Enhance the effectiveness of Lean techniques. Effectively applying Lean techniques to environmentally sensitive “monument” processes can have big pay offs for environmental performance and bottom-line results.
  • Deliver what customers and employees want. Organizations that develop products with fewer hazardous chemicals and operate hazard-free production processes have the potential to gain competitive advantage.

This toolkit describes how to identify and reduce chemical wastes alongside the range of other wastes targeted by Lean, thereby achieving better results without distracting Lean from its focus on waste elimination and continual improvement.

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Driving Out Chemical Wastes with Lean Events

Value stream mapping events and kaizen rapid process improvement events are very effective ways to identify and eliminate chemical wastes. Strategies include:

  • Value Stream Mapping Events: Add chemical metrics or show environmental inputs and outputs on the process boxes on value stream maps, as a way to discover new process-improvement opportunities.
  • Kaizen Events: Involve environmental health and safety (EHS) personnel strategically in kaizen events, ask questions to identify the root causes of chemical wastes, and target certain kaizen events on chemical wastes.

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Lean Chemical Management

Many Lean manufacturing strategies—including right-sized equipment and containers, just-in-time (JIT) delivery, point-of-use storage, 6S (5S + Safety), kitting, and visual controls—can dramatically reduce chemical use, waste, and risk. Example chemical management strategies that support Lean goals include:

  • JIT and Chemical Management Services: Having chemicals delivered when you need them in the amounts that you need supports Lean goals while also reducing risks and wastes. Contracting with companies that provide chemical management services can remove even more waste.
  • Right-Sizing: Limit unnecessary use of chemicals and increase process efficiency by making equipment and containers the right size for the task.
  • Applying Lean to Hazardous Waste Management: Use Lean to improve chemical and waste management “support” processes, such as waste-collection processes and compliance-reporting activities. 
  • Point-of-Use Storage: Adopt proper maintenance and control procedures to prevent regulatory compliance and worker health and safety issues associated with point-of-use storage of chemicals. 
  • Visual Management: Reinforce best practices for using and disposing of chemicals and hazardous wastes with visual controls, standard work, 6S (5S + Safety), and Total Productive Maintenance.

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Designing Products and Processes that Use Less Hazardous Chemicals

Lean product and process design methods—such as 3P, Design for Manufacturing and Assembly, and Quality Function Deployment—are powerful tools for eliminating harmful uses of chemicals in products and processes. Strategies for incorporating chemical considerations into Lean design include:

  • Incorporate environmental design criteria and “green chemistry” principles into Lean design methods.
  • Draw on Design for Environment resources such as clean technology assessments and sector-based best practices to identify safer alternatives.
  • Look for opportunities to meet customer needs with products and services that eliminate or use minimal amounts of hazardous chemicals.

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A Vision for Lean and Chemicals

As organizations evolve their operations using Lean, it can be useful to think about better ways to make and deliver high quality products and services that customers want, when they want them, and without things that do not add value. A guiding vision for Lean and chemicals efforts could include two parts:

  • Produce high-quality products and services that do not contain hazardous chemicals that customers did not request.
  • Develop products that can decompose naturally at the end of their use or become high-quality raw materials for new products.

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Getting Started with Lean and Chemicals


There are many ways to get started with reducing chemical wastes and improving business results using Lean. An important initial step is for Lean champions or operations managers to connect with EHS personnel to discuss opportunities to reduce chemical wastes with Lean. Consider trying out some of the strategies and tools in this toolkit, start measuring chemical use and hazardous waste generation along with Lean metrics, and discover the benefits of improved Lean and chemicals management for your organization.

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Toolkit Navigation

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