Deciding on an end-to-end recycling solution requires evaluating several operational considerations not addressed by horizontal ERP solutions.
By Conor Dowd and Gary Dietz

We welcome 2023 with the circular economy and a renewed focus on recycling that is more pivotal to the global economy than ever. The recycling industry is being helped by strong tailwinds, including new legislation (e.g., Extender Producer Responsibility), rising global commodity pricing, and increased government spending in infrastructure courtesy of the recent climate investment bill.

The list of challenges we must rise to is never-ending: master buying, selling, logistics, quality management, production processing, invoicing, regulatory compliance, finance, and more. These challenges are exacerbated by the variety of materials processed such as scrap metal, fiber, plastics, organics, and other specialist resources.

The Time for Digital Innovation in Recycling Workflow Management is Now
Many U.S. recycling operators find that the current challenge of digitizing and automating operations using conventional solid waste solutions along with horizontal ERP and financial software falls short of the demands of specific industry requirements. Too often, “going digital” means that processes and workflows are stitched together using an amalgam of spreadsheets, e-mail, custom databases, and generic ERP systems that are customized, at great time and expense, with limited impact across the business. Not to mention unreasonable maintenance costs and lack of flexibility.

There is a lot to think about as you consider your range of options. Should you (a) implement an end-to-end recycling solution specifically designed for your industry, (b) create and maintain a custom solution for your specific business, or (c) manage the risk of continuing to use sub-optimal, “stitched together” digital tools and manual workflows?

 

The following operational considerations fall into two main categories. Each consideration is highly differentiated in the recycling industry. They point strongly to evaluating the deployment of an end-to-end solution designed specifically for the recycling domain.

Collecting and Understanding Your Material Reverse Logistics
The reverse logistic model of recycling is complex and varied. It is not as simple as, for example, taking a logistics platform designed for the delivery and return of retail items and applying it to recycling workflows.

Recyclables Can Be Collected in a Variety of Containers
Loads can consist of multiple material types collected from multiple customers and customer types. It is challenging to plan and automate and is beyond the capability of most generic solutions that are not designed to deal with service scenarios like dropping, collecting, and exchanging containers at business, consumers, and processing centers—all on the same route.

Scale Management and Variable Feedstocks
With recycling, variable feedstocks are weighed and recorded on truck and floor scales. Efficient scale operation is critical with requirements, such as the need for rapid breakdown of either individual container and bulk loads, connection to both truck and platform scales to avoid redundant re-keying of data, and the inspection of loads where the expected and actual polymer description may vary.

Granular Material Descriptions and Properties
A specialist recycling solution allows the accurate and granular recording of polymer material types. This includes the recording of material descriptions and associated properties, such as grade, density, color, and melt flow index. The capturing of this granular level of detail in real-time can be the difference in securing your margin as you buy, transform, and sell your materials.

Quality Inspection
A specialist recycling solution accounts for an inspection process to ensure that the actual feedstock material composition and quality conforms with what was required. The quality of the grading process starts in the yard and needs to be fully integrated with your back-office operations. This is a common use case in the recycling industry, where feedstock can be upgraded or downgraded. It needs to be recorded empirically and shared with the supplier, as it will have a financial impact on the amount paid.

Transforming and Tracking Key Recycling Metrics Contract Management and Brokerage
Only a specialist recycling solution can provide the level of granularity and business insight necessary to efficiently run the business. It is common for recyclers to connect buy and sell agreements (brokerage) across the journey from the supplier, through the transformation process, to the sale price. Recycling demands the ability to create and link purchase and sales contracts with automated pricing and margin calculation.

Inventory, Cost, and Margin Management
Inventory management for plastic recycling can be quite complex as material is transformed. Plastic recyclers need to have full visibility on the cost, status, volume, location, and margin on their inventory. It can be upgraded or downgraded in value. It requires powerful mobile yard applications with barcoding support. A specialist recycling solution provides this level of automation and visibility.

Flexible Billing
Billing is complex in recycling operations where a customer can be both a supplier and a buyer. A specialist recycling solution can manage scenarios like this—and ones with more complexity—including regrading of material with financial claims and repricing. It can manage a situation where you charge a supplier of feedstock for transport and rental of the container, and then pay them a rebate per ton for the material collected.

Regulatory Compliance
Recycling requires specific regulatory documentation including Bills of Landing, Transfer Notes, Delivery Confirmations, VGM Certificates and Packaging Notes. Maintaining compliant documentation over time via a specialist recycling solution helps maximize compliance and minimize fines for deviations.

Container Management
A specialist recycling solution allows you to manage and track valuable container assets that are used to collect your feedstock. This is important from both a chain of custody perspective as well as protecting costly containers which can cost thousands of dollars each and are often vulnerable to shrinkage.

Meeting Demand
In North America, the recycling sector is poised to attract private and public investment to build the necessary collection and processing infrastructure to meet business and ecological demands. Investment in an end-to-end digital automation solution is vital for recycling organizations of all sizes. These investments pay deepest dividends when they are used to deploy solutions that closely match the unique operational requirements of our exciting recycling sector. | WA

Conor Dowd has worked at AMCS since 2016 in a variety of sales and marketing management roles. He is currently Senior Product Marketing Manager. Prior to that, he worked for more than 12 years as Commercial Director at a large international recycling company with operations in North America, United Kingdom and Ireland. Conor is passionate about the use of digital technology to promote sustainability and drive behavioral change. He can be reached at [email protected].

Gary Dietz is a Product Marketing leader for the North American Market for the AMCS Group. For more than two decades, Gary has been at the forefront of enterprise software projects that have enhanced learning, security, and frontline worker experiences. He is also the author of a book about fathers whose children experience disability. He can be reached at [email protected].

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