Recylcing future?

Where is recycling headed?

Despite having been around for many years recycling is still in its infancy. It is growing strongly and although it follows overseas experience in some respects, I believe we in South Africa will ultimately develop our own African model. How will this model look and how will recycling look in 10 and 20 years from now?

The recycling industry encompasses everything from the “trolley brigade” to large and sophisticated supply chains. The entrepreneurs who collect cardboard and cans in supermarket trolleys or homemade wagons and sell it daily to recycling centres will likely remain in business and - looking at similar countries will - grow. The trolley brigade already account for a substantial percentage of recycling.

The real difference will be when corporations decide to become more responsible with their waste

Recyclable material will, however, become scarcer as environmental protection measures (end of life responsibility) gain traction and as the economic value of recyclable material ensure that more organizations sell their recyclables instead of giving it away.

There is no doubt that the larger corporations are realizing the value of their recyclable material. Several have now incorporated backhauling (the use of returning, empty delivery vehicles) to collect recyclable material to a central distribution centre from where it is sold. The income can be substantial. This trend is likely to increase and become more sophisticated.

I foresee that municipalities will be forced to allow some form of recycling to take place at the landfills. And more recycling initiatives will be rolled out to households. Schools and institutions of learning are already good recyclers and more will join in. The real difference, however, will be when corporations decide to become more responsible with their waste. The volumes generated by the manufacturing and other industries is massive and until now it is often a case of concentrating on production at the expense of recycling.

Recycling involves more than the collection and sale of the material. It can become part of the supply chain management support with the recycler recording the materials, reporting to the store on its compliance with standards and highlighting underperforming stores or deviations from standards. For example if one store in a chain is producing more waste and less recycling than the other stores then this is flagged for investigation.

Technology is making these systems easier but, by itself, technology cannot resolve all the issues. To be effective a recycling program needs a culture of recycling, champions who support it, systems suitable for the operations, reliable reports and verification of integrity as well as the collection and sale of the material.

So why do this? Saving the planet is nice and very necessary but a more commercial justification is the saving in cost. Simply put, every ton of recyclable material extracted from the waste stream is one ton less to be disposed of at cost. Plus there is some income from the sale of the recyclables.

With this motivation I foresee that recycling will continue to grow and have a major impact on the green economy as well as provide jobs for the least skilled part of our society.

Smart Waste can assist in providing all of these services or supplementing existing systems.

Smart Waste