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Blog June 2022 Updated July 2022

Global waste and recycling market

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Conor Dowd Product Marketing Manager

The global waste and recycling market is expected to show rapid growth over the next few years, from improved technology, new legislation and demand for much more recycled content.

According to Statista, the global waste and recycling services market had a total size of $55.1 billion in 2020, and this had increased to $57.69 billion last year.

In 2022, it is projected to be worth $60.41 billion, and by 2030 a much larger $88.01 billion.

What is driving the growth of the global waste and recycling market?

The key drivers for growth of recycling and waste services are:

A changing world and a circular economy

In 2007, this was the first time that more people lived in urban areas than in rural communities. 

Urbanization is a trend that is expected to continue, with it predicted that by 2050 two-thirds of the global population will live in towns and cities. 

As people tend to migrate from rural to urban areas as they become richer (in developing economies at least), living standards tend to increase in urban areas. This means that a growing global population that is more city-based tends to lead to more consumption. As a result, more waste is created.

This creates more opportunity to collect, process and recycle this waste. As has been seen in developed economies, but also increasingly in developing economies, there is more demand to use recycled content in packaging and other products. Global companies such as Unilever, Coca-Cola and Nestlé see use of increasing amounts of recycled content and wider sustainability policy as essential for their Environmental, Social and Governance reporting. But they also recognize customers increasingly want big businesses to be custodians of the planet, they help shift to more sustainable consumption. 

Those businesses that are seen as acting sustainably, tend to be rewarded by customers leading to greater profitability.  

While the European Union is leading the development of a circular economy to ensure less of our resources go to landfill and energy-from-waste, and more to recycling, reuse and reduction, other developing economies are also introducing circular economic policy.

In Asia, Vietnam is shifting to a circular economy. Over the next five years China is promoting recycling, remanufacturing, green product design and renewable resources as part of the circular economy element of its 14th Five Year Plan Period.  

The role of waste and recycling companies will change fundamentally in the circular economy as they become data partners and collaborators with both  producers and consumers. 

Smart cities

Many cities around the world are using smart technology, such as the Internet of Things, 5G, connectivity and artificial intelligence to improve their living environment.

These smart cities use innovation to become more efficient, competitive, and sustainable to meet the economic, social, environmental and cultural needs of their populace and future residents.

In Copenhagen, Denmark, for example, wireless data from mobile devices, GPS in buses and sensors in sewers and garbage cans is used to assess the city in real time. This allows the city to make improvements to decrease traffic, air pollution and CO2 emissions.

Oslo, Norway, uses disruptive technologies to digitalize its operations. Indeed, it says that any services that can be digitalized will be digitalized. This includes developing circular waste management through digitalization as well as testing of electric buses, zero-emission construction sites, and retrofitting buildings with sensors and building management systems.

Globally, logistics and the waste management industry’s role in providing secondary commodities, requires digitalization to operate. AMCS provides this technology through the AMCS Platform. 

According to Disruptive Technologies, the Top 10 sustainable smart cities in the world are:

  1. Copenhagen, Denmark
  2. Oslo, Norway
  3. Zurich, Switzerland
  4. London, United Kingdom
  5. Stockholm, Sweden
  6. Singapore
  7. Amsterdam, Netherlands
  8. Sydney, Australia
  9. New York City, USA
  10. Munich, Germany.

For the waste management sector, these smart cities offer opportunities to connect into the operation of the city in real time. For example, route optimization as offered by AMCS ensures digital technology is used to reduce emissions from waste collection vehicle operations. AMCS offers Waste Planner to municipalities and operators who wish to optimize urban collections for efficiency and sustainability.

By integrating with smart city infrastructure, recycling and waste management companies will have access to customers using this technology, plus data that allows them to optimize their operations and business development, especially when combined with artificial intelligence.

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Artificial Intelligence

One of the most disruptive technologies is artificial intelligence (AI) that is capable of replicating and improving on human skills such as problem solving and learning.

In the recycling and waste sector, AI is being used across all sorts of applications from analyzing vast arrays of data to spot patterns and trends, to identifying maintenance issues in sorting equipment and vehicles.

AMCS Vision AI is our artificial intelligence solution that uses an on-vehicle camera to identify contaminated material when it is placed into the hopper of a vehicle. It allows the producer of this contamination to be identified and helped to improve the quality of material they provide for collection.

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World markets

There are pressures that are making the global trade of recycled materials more challenging.

Whether it is China’s ban on importing paper and plastics or proposed European Waste Shipment Regulations that will make it harder to export materials such as paper, plastics and metals to non-EU or non-OECD countries, it is becoming challenging to trade globally.

There is still a huge amount of material exported globally to manufacturing centres, and recycling and waste trade associations such as BIR, ISRI, EuRIC and The Recycling Association are working hard to keep markets open.

But there is also a trend towards onshoring. New paper mills are opening in US and Europe to serve domestic markets, rather than the material coming from Asia. 

There has also been investment in US scrap metal infrastructure, with $59.5 billion invested in steel facilities alone in the last two decades.

New Basel Convention rules have made it harder to export plastics without prior notification to non-OECD countries. Effectively, for European and US plastics companies, their markets have been westernized to domestic markets, other neighboring OECD markets or Turkey. Destinations in Asia have therefore become less important.

The future

Clearly the circular economy is a global trend that has a huge amount of momentum from policy makers, major manufacturers and indeed recycling and waste management companies.

Over the coming decades, we are likely to move towards increasing use of recycled materials as well as reuse and waste prevention models.

Companies such as Suez in the UK see this as an opportunity and are already adapting their strategy.

In a recent interview for the AMCS Inspire series , Suez Recycling and Recovery External Affairs Director Adam Read said: “If we capture all the recyclables from municipal waste and household-like business waste, we should be able to get up to 70% recycling rates in the future. By adding chemical recycling, we might get up to 75%, and if we capture organics better and make residual harder, we might get up to 80%.

With these future levels of residuals approaching 20%, that leaves nappies (diapers) and other bits and pieces. If that is all we are left with, I’d take that as a transition between now and 2045.

“In the UK, my best guess is that 70% goes to residual now, so there is still plenty of opportunities to improve recycling. But over time, it will be a circular economy that we need to develop to decarbonize and protect our resources and planet.”

Clearly, companies like Suez that embrace these changes and take advantage of the commercial opportunities, need the technological support for their activities.

It is our goal at AMCS, through the AMCS Platform and the thought leadership we are providing, to assist our customers in their journey towards new business models that are emerging in the rapidly developing global waste and recycling market. 

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