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Blog November 2022 Updated June 2024

The Circular Economy needs you: Why Waste and Recycling providers are pivotal

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Conor Dowd

Conor Dowd

Global Product Marketing Manager, AMCS

As the world shifts to a circular economy, new opportunities are constantly emerging, particularly for those companies ready to think beyond today’s linear waste and recycling business models. So, as the drive to cut carbon emissions and reduce resource consumption increases, what can waste, and recycling operators do to harness the growing benefits of a circular value chain?

How does the circular economy create value?

Countries around the world are striving to prioritize a circular economic model in a bid to reduce society’s impact on the environment. 

On a practical level, this means working to eliminate waste and pollution by changing the way that resources are managed. Rather than harvesting raw materials to create new products and ultimately throwing them away as waste, a circular economy encourages a transition towards renewable energy and materials.

Not only will this reduce carbon emissions, but it prevents the depletion of finite raw materials such as oil or critical metals. As a further benefit, it may serve to reduce dependency on the unstable global regions where these resources are often found.

But that’s not all. Moving towards a circular economy will also create opportunities for economic growth with the development of new services that support material reuse and recycling.

In this way, transitioning towards a circular economy can create a more innovative, resilient, and productive economy, even for those countries that are already environmentally active. 

Research from the Ellen MacArthur Foundation, for example, revealed that by 2035, efforts to improve sustainability in Denmark could:

  • increase GDP by 0.8 to 1.4% 
  • create an additional 7,000 to 13,000 jobs
  • increase net exports by 3 to 6 %.

How can waste and recycling companies unlock circular growth?

In a circular economy, burying or burning waste is undesirable. Despite the move away from landfill or waste-to-energy initiatives, however, waste and recycling processes still have a vital role to play in the Circular Economy framework.

That’s because as waste increasingly becomes seen as a resource, those with waste management expertise will be set to take center stage.

With input from the waste and recycling industry, it will be possible to improve:

  • Material specifications
  • Product design 
  • Manufacturing processes

An integrated approach makes eco-design easier, ensuring decisions made early in the design process prioritize end-of-life recyclability. To achieve this transition however, waste and recycling companies must embrace a new mindset. 

Rather than simply removing waste and recycling it where convenient, providers need to think of themselves as resource managers. By focusing on resource quality and working to ensure that materials can, and do, make their way back into the manufacturing cycle, you can add value.

Yet there’s more to a circular economy than simply recycling. In truth, we will need to consider a variety of other ways to manage waste before ramping up to energy intensive recycling processes. 

Re-use, Repair and Remanufacture will become more prevalent. As these ‘R’ cycles begin to take precedence, waste and recycling companies must think beyond recycling, which will ultimately play a smaller role than it does today. 

Are you ready to think beyond recycling?

For waste and recycling companies, the circular economy presents exciting new opportunities. As the industry looks to extract more value from waste, here are some of the steps that waste and recycling operators can take to ensure the successful delivery of a more circular approach:

1. Explore new business models

To remain competitive in the future, waste and recycling companies need to adopt circular business models today. One company embracing this trend is AMCS customer, Suez, which has been working to establish a successful Renew Hub in Manchester.

In partnership with local government, Suez was able to make use of items deposited at its Household Waste Recycling Centers across Greater Manchester. Once at the Hub, products are cleaned and repaired at a series of on-site repair shops ready for resale. 

Not only does this large-scale initiative divert waste into reuse, saving 600 tonnes from landfill in its first year, it has also created new green jobs, as well as upskilling locals within the community. 

As Suez demonstrates, by working closely with other stakeholders, waste and recycling companies are perfectly positioned to explore new ideas such as the repair economy, often generating a host of sustainable benefits in the process. 

2. Champion Circular Economy Legislation

The circular economy represents a new industrial revolution, one which will take several decades to realize. Legislation is essential to achieve these systemic changes, providing waste and recycling companies with the certainty they need to invest in the future.

The Resources and Waste Strategy for England, for example, details guidelines for extended producer responsibility, consistent collections, deposit refund schemes and fiscal measures such as a tax on plastic packaging.

For waste and recycling companies, keeping a close eye on legislation is essential , but a proactive approach to influencing public circular policy is more impactful.  An AMCS customer Panda secured the first Irish license to reuse construction and demolition waste in order to create more value from circular construction resources.

Previously these materials were classified as waste and could only be disposed of in landfill but by lobbying government to agree to certain standards and certifications, Panda was able to reuse this material in the construction of a new roadway.

By advocating legislation and championing change, waste and recycling companies can significantly advance both their own interests and those of the circular economy.

3. Develop new supply chain partnerships

Closing the loop on our use of resources is a fundamental part of the circular economy, enabling the safe reclamation of waste materials for use in new products. Like many Circular Economy initiatives, achieving this will depend on well-engineered reverse logistics and close relationships across the supply chain.

Manufacturing giant, IKEA, provides a great example with its clear goal of becoming 100% circular by 2030. To achieve this goal, IKEA has been working with Dutch mattress recycler, RetourMatras, to change the way it sources and disposes of mattress foam. 

With support from AMCS customer, Renewi, RetourMatras dismantles disposed mattresses and prepares the materials for reuse, ensuring up to 90% of the materials can be recovered for use in new products. 

Collaboration such as this will be vital in the circular economy. By partnering now with manufacturers and working together to manage the circular flow of both resources, and data, waste and recycling companies can position themselves at the heart of the circular economy.

4. Invest in Information Technology

Underpinning almost every circular initiative there runs a common thread: data. This is the key to understanding the resources available in the waste system as well as how they can be reused.

Innovative technologies are now providing more ways than ever to collect and use that data, with Industry 4.0 creating an exciting environment where systems are:

  • connected
  • data-generating
  • automated

AMCS helps you embrace these benefits, with Vision AI providing a great example. The technology works to digitize images of the resource stream for intelligent grading and quality management, providing essential information on the composition, quality, and treatment of resources.

But it’s not just AI that will make a difference. Integrated IT systems enable waste and recycling companies to digitize all operations and automate diverse processes, providing a platform from which companies can trade, co-operate, and work with partners across the value chain.

With support to optimize resource flows and streamline logistics, waste and recycling operators are equipped to collaborate. More importantly, they are equipped to make circular profitable. Driving value in the circular economy with digital improvements that pave the way for lasting circular change.

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