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Blog June 2023

How will sustainable consumption drive change in waste and recycling?

Governments across the globe are looking to embrace a circular economy. With the push to reduce household consumption in favor of more sustainable lifestyle choices, we ask what increased resource efficiency means for the waste and recycling industry?

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Stacey Piggott

Senior Digital Marketing Manager

Maintaining current levels of consumption is not an option. Humans already consume more resources than ever before and with a projected population growth of 3 billion by 2050, materials use is only going to increase.

Without corrective action, outcomes for the environment will be disastrous, with depleted resources and increased pollution causing problems.

Moving to a circular economy offers hope that we can restore balance, improving resource efficiency to ensure that waste and pollution are minimized, and products and materials are reused at their highest value before being recycled.

What is sustainable consumption?

Sustainable consumption, along with its twin, sustainable production, is an integral part of the transition towards a circular economy. According to the UN, this holistic approach is focused on separating economic growth from environmental degradation.

Not only will this support the transition to a low carbon economy, it states, but also alleviate some of the factors that contribute to poverty in developing countries by creating new markets and green jobs.

With food and plastics making up more than half of all global waste, these two areas are ripe for sustainable initiatives, working to cut waste at every stage from production right through to disposal.

On a practical level, effecting this change will involve active participation throughout the supply chain, from government and business right through to consumers and waste service providers. 

How are governments driving change?

Further to international goals such as those set out by the UN, many countries are looking to encourage sustainable consumption by introducing new legislation.

The European Commission’s Circular Economy Action Plan (CEAP), for example, is one of the main building blocks of Europe’s agenda for sustainable growth. Introduced in 2020, it focuses on the production and disposal of key resources such as electronics and ICT, packaging, plastics, textiles and food.

Likewise, in its 25 Year Environment Plan, the UK Government seeks to improve the use of resources with measures such as: 

  • Banning single-use plastics like plates and cutlery
  • A deposit return scheme for plastic and metal drinks containers 
  • And consistent recycling between different councils to boost recycling rates.

By changing expectations around consumption, government policy has a key role to play in increasing sustainability, but it’s not always about shaping consumer behaviors.

Ireland’s Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) has identified several barriers to the uptake of a circular economy including: a lack of meaningful data; regulatory; financial; and operational restrictions. 

Drawing on this research, the Irish government expects to launch targeted government interventions to overcome these obstacles and make the Irish economy more successfully circular.

Proposed measures range from introducing repairability and durability indices on product labelling to engaging with the waste and recycling industry to develop cost-effective deposit return schemes. 

At each stage of the supply chain, these measures will be backed by intelligent policy with intervention opportunities around regulating the re-sharing economy, shaping public procurement policy, and incentivizing circular outcomes through tax relief.

What is digital waste tracking?

As Ireland’s EPA has highlighted, one of the primary barriers to boosting sustainability is the lack of data surrounding existing consumption and associated waste.

Ireland’s digital sector has been identified as a key driver in accelerating the transition to a circular economy, with digitally-enabled solutions such as the AMCS software platform playing a key role in optimizing value chain management, improving value chain transparency, and facilitating waste to resource matching.

The UK Government also emphasizes digital tools in promoting sustainable consumption with a digital waste tracking scheme, which it plans to introduce across the UK as part of its Resources and Waste Strategy for England.

With digital technology to measure, monitor, and track waste, it hopes to understand what is happening to waste produced in the UK. This could help businesses comply with their duty of care regarding waste, eliminate mishandling including illegal exports and fly tipping, as well as increasing sustainability by maximizing the value extracted from resources.

Technology will be a key enabler for any such strategy, with artificial intelligence providing innovative ways to achieve these goals. Computer vision solutions such as AMCS Vision AI, for example, can improve visibility in the waste handling sector by digitizing images of the resource stream, seamlessly providing insights about any waste collected.

This could include automated material identification to flag any contamination that impedes recycling or composition analysis to understand the resource stream being processed. With enhanced capabilities to improve quality and reduce landfill, waste and recycling operators now have new tools at their disposal to comply with emerging legislation. Download the solution brochure below to learn more.

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How will producer responsibility impact waste?

One policy sure to require digital support in its implementation is the UK’s policy covering extended producer responsibility (EPR) for packaging

Businesses that produce or use packaging will be obliged to cut the amount of packaging used and reduce how much packaging waste goes to landfill while also increasing the amount recycled.

With strict measures to collect correct packaging data from January 2023, including obtaining evidence of compliance and submitting a certificate of compliance, the need for a detailed digital trail is evident.

Combine this increased administrative burden with investment in new materials and rapid inflation and it may be that rising costs alone will be enough to impact consumer behavior and reduce the amount of goods purchased and consequently the waste produced.

Is consumer behavior changing?

Deloitte’s 2022 consumer survey indicates that adoption of sustainable lifestyles is already on the rise. In the previous year, for example, 59% have limited the number of new products they bought, while 64% of those surveyed have limited their use of single-use plastics.

Research by global consultancy firm, Simon Kutcher, mirrors these findings with awareness of sustainable options, however it states that two-thirds of global consumers are not willing to pay more for environmentally friendly alternatives. 

As ever the primary barrier to change is cost, so it’s not surprising that making sustainability more affordable is a must. Making goals easier to achieve is also a priority, with 54% of consumers questioned by Deloitte requesting better schemes to remove plastic and packaging and 46% asking for more clarity on disposal and recycling.

In part, delivering this clarity will fall to waste service providers. Educating residents on best practice for effective recycling and engaging proactively with citizens is a therefore a key part of the municipal waste contractors’ remit. 

Interestingly, AMCS has seen a corresponding increase in clients sourcing the kind of customer-facing solutions that improve communication with residents. Technology such as customer portals and mobile-friendly apps are a great way to guide and inform residents and will no doubt play an important role in simplifying recycling, increasing recycling rates, and driving circular initiatives. Download the solution brochure below to learn more.

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4 key takeaways for waste and recycling providers

Whether through government policy, consumer demand, or environmental necessity, sustainable consumption is on the rise. That means waste and recycling service providers need to respond.

Below are 4 key areas where circularity and the move towards sustainable consumption is likely to drive change in the waste and recycling industry:

  • Collaboration across the supply chain is required to create innovative waste strategies. Your knowledge is valuable to the producers of next-gen materials and products. Those waste and recycling providers able to establish new business models around reuse or repair, for example, will be best placed to create and exploit new opportunities.
  • Keep a close eye on legislation designed to reduce the amount of waste entering landfill. Many measures will require new systems for the collection and management of waste, which you may be able to shape. Building an effective after-use plastics economy, for example, requires effective, automated collection, sorting and reprocessing to maximize profitability.
  • Embrace digitalization to improve visibility and increase control over your waste operations. With digital tools to track waste and realize waste brokerage, you will be equipped to support initiatives such as producer responsibility as well as ensuring that waste resources retain value in the circular economy.
  • Simplify reuse, recycling, and waste collection by signposting services, engaging with the communities you serve and delivering responsive customer service. As the ‘face’ of waste and recycling, service providers have a key role to play in changing consumer habits and breaking down barriers to adopting new, more sustainable behaviors.

AMCS can help you meet these objectives, supporting waste and recycling companies as they seek to boost efficiency and work towards net zero goals. 

Our innovative SaaS solutions are combined in a single, cloud-based platform that encompasses materials management, logistics, digital engagement, business intelligence, and finance. Together, these components deliver the digital tools you need to increase productivity, respond to forthcoming legislation, and support consumers as they move to embrace more sustainable consumption patterns.

Download the solution brochure below or contact us to learn more.

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