A 're-usable society' is just as important as a recycling one
We read with concern about man-made climate change and plastic waste that has formed a 1.6 million km2 Great Pacific Garbage Patch between Hawaii and California.
However, practical action to help the environment stops for many of us on bin night. We venture out during the week (or once just before bin collection!) to drop plastic, paper, glass and aluminium waste into a yellow receptacle.
We do not consider what happens to that waste once it’s picked up from kerbside bins.
Understanding the recycling challenge
At Re.Group, we believe the community needs to understand how the recycling sector operates and the challenges it faces.
This increased knowledge will help people to realise that recycling is a resource shared between the community, governments and industry. Only a mature, collaborative approach between all these groups will ensure the industry’s long-term survival.
Businesses in the sector are struggling to invest in new technologies to improve recycling quality and value.
However, there is no shortage of innovation in the sector. Our senior leadership team recently visited IFAT — a trade fair for the water, sewage, waste and raw materials management sector — in Europe to review the latest developments.
At sessions and resource recovery facilities, we saw developments such as robotic sorters that can be deployed into quality assurance roles and new screens that can sort materials by size, shape and density.
Unfortunately, this new equipment costs money — and most recycling businesses are facing difficult trading conditions.
The era of robust global demand — powered primarily by China — has ended. Similar conditions are unlikely to return in the near future.
To survive in the medium to long term, recycling businesses need to move away from competing predominantly on price.
A price-based approach may have worked when nearly all recovered materials were saleable. However, in today’s market, businesses face pressure to continue investing while accepting lower prices for end products.
This pressure comes from the need to improve the quality of materials processing so businesses can move up the value chain.
Overcoming the conundrum
So how do businesses address the conundrum of investing to deliver higher quality feedstocks (the raw materials used to manufacture products) that kick-start local remanufacturing options, while facing reduced cash flows?
We believe the answer lies in redefining the value equation for the recycling sector.
A more rational value equation can underpin a strategy that guarantees the long-term sustainability and performance of the recycling sector.
For example, the strategy needs to ensure processing fees reflect new market realities and ensure recycling businesses can continue to provide valuable services to the community.
This strategy should be developed — and owned — by government, industry and the community.
For Australians, this means coming to grips with the fact practical action to save the environment does not stop at dropping yesterday’s empty milk carton into our yellow bin. It means supporting a sector that helps society re-use rather than dispose of resources that become waste.
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