The solution proposed by regulators and recyclers are based on managing waste and continuing with recycling. Regional and municipal recycling costs are constantly increasing and not efficient. The costs of recycling in regions such as Vancouver, parts of California, Alberta, New York state and other regions are escalating beyond municipal budgetary capacity. This problem will continue to escalate if alternative solutions to recycling are not adopted, e.g. design products for end of life reuse and for feedstock in other industries with minimum energy use for conversion. Recycling requires high energy use, has emissions and other environmental impacts; this is not the solution. When we speak of recycling the tendency is to focus on the end-user products such as packaging and food waste; these products make up a small portion of waste and landfill items. The construction and demolition industries along with manufacturing waste make up 60 to 70 percent of what ends up in the landfill. We are now seeing end of life solar panels and wind turbines end up in landfills because we do not have the means to recycle or repurpose.
On the current model, the costs of recycling will not stabilize or decrease and the societal and economic burden on taxpayers will have significant consequences on quality of life and wellbeing. The recycling model is not “Green”; recycling is energy-hungry and has high emissions, high energy use, water contamination, and high costs across the processes—from collection through to disposal. Today this may appear as a broad statement, however, recycling should be the last option for end of life material. Designing out waste across the supply chain is the best sustainable approach. The future is lowering the costs to taxpayers while optimizing the use and reuse of resources with zero emissions and minimum energy dependency.
Time to Shift Our Thinking and Design Out Recycling; Recycling is Not Circular
In today’s society, we are frequently faced with multiple changes, rules, regulations and demands from global sources. At the same time, we endeavor to meet societal and economic demands across the supply chain. This is an era of continuous growth, mass migration, high immigration to developed countries and urban areas, and market-driven high consumption dominated with minimum viable products. Additionally, we have increased land, air and sea travel and logistics contributing to the waste generation cycle. Construction, deconstruction and post-consumer waste are also major contributors.
These factors along with an average 1.8 percent per year population growth rate also have consequences—the demand and exhaustion of natural non-renewable resources and high waste generation. Our current waste generation per capita is now triple what it was in the 1930s and 1940s. As a result of emerging new technologies, there are new looming cumulative issues that will impact recycling: power demands for recycling, electric vehicles, Blockchain, AI, ML, Quantum computing, mobility and automation will put undue strain on renewable technologies and the north American distribution grid. We do not have the capacity to transmit and distribute the forecasted demands for industrial, digital and recycling technologies. So, what are our options? Design out waste, monetize waste at the source, design excess material into feedstock.
We cannot make the same manufacturing mistakes made in the past, such as failing to automate ahead of change and being left behind as job and products are made cheaper overseas with technologies developed in North America. The mechanisms and technologies developed in North America to manage and mitigate waste must be adopted and enabled to support our industries and markets. This will allow use to repurpose, reuse and design in excess material and mitigate the need to high energy and resource-intensive recycling processes.
The markets of recycled products are changing, and recycled material is becoming cost-prohibitive as feedstock. As we experienced by the bans in China, Malaysia and other Asian countries, banned North American waste created a huge backlash and exposure in the recycling industry. This industry cannot clean up its act overnight and must transform to re-seller and brokers of excess material rather than recyclers.
Consumers are now driving demand and change; consumer waste is created by “lifestyle creep”—the more you earn, the more you waste. Waste and changes in the waste industry include social and economic accountability and environmental compliance. Sustainability includes affordability to everyone not just to those who can afford it. Millions of North Americans live on the very edge and below the poverty line. Adding costs to waste mitigation will compound the waste issues and impact our health and social services programs. The consumer market is also a constantly changing playing field that is costly to organizations if they are not capable to adapt and pivot to meet changing demands. The path to a waste-free future is waste mitigation, by designing out waste at source and monetizing waste where it is created, recycling is a transition method to zero waste.
Dave Gajadhar is an Advisor, Speaker, Educator, and an Advocate for Human prosperity and resource optimization at Resultant Group (Edmonton, AB), business modernization, resource optimization and transition advisors. He can be reached at (780) 483-4800, e-mail [email protected] or contact through Twitter: @dgajadar.
Resultant Group helps companies to identify what matters to each of your stakeholders, participants and clients across your value chain. This enables your organization to optimize resources, monetize excess material and enable your sustainability reporting to convey the business’ unique story reflecting how your business is genuinely managed in a shared and circular economy. Join us at one of our regional workshops. Check out our schedule online at Resultantgroup.com and Companiesforzerowaste.com. Visit @ResultantGroup to learn more about advisory master classes.