The Future of Recycling: From Fad to Fundamental

In 2017, the AI Business Excellence Awards announced EA Recycling as the Most Innovative Waste Recycling Company. Alex Hall, Managing Director, shares his thoughts about the changing face of the recycling industry and the future trends.

Recycling has gained widespread traction over the past few decades, but it's centuries old. From the melting of damaged metal weapons to create new ones to the Romans recycling bronze coins to create ornaments, it’s always been part of our culture.

It came to the forefront in the 1960s when the rebellion against consumerism took hold. In 1986 the first European legislation to protect the environment was introduced, closely followed by further EU directives related to waste reduction.

Today, recycling is commonplace with individuals and businesses focusing on the recycling of paper, glass, metal, plastics, textiles and even electronics. Wholeheartedly supported by the mass media, it has become part of our everyday lives, spawning a burgeoning industry.

Where will recycling go next?

As the act of recycling becomes socially engrained, future generations will continue to carry the flag of environmentalism and take the recycling industry to new levels.

As a result, players such as EA Recycling will have to continue to evolve to facilitate these growing demands, creating new ways of servicing this growing ecological awareness.

This continued evolution is likely to be driven by more stringent corporate social responsibility practices.

Consumers are far more aware of the impact of waste on the environment and will be watching the response of businesses to their concerns. Not wanting to be seen as ‘uncaring’ or ‘reckless’, many firms will increase their self-generated waste recycling efforts.

There are of course upsides to this culture shift. Not only will they win over consumers, but their businesses also become more sustainable, increasing supply line efficiency and reductions in industrial waste.

Plastic, biodegradable plastic and 3-D printing

The durability of plastic is what first won us over, but it is also its death knell. Taking thousands of years to photodegrade and the hazard they pose to wildlife, society has fallen out of love with it.

One response is the development of so-called biodegradable plastic, which uses plant-derived resins like polylactic acid. To be recycled these plastics require specialist systems and, if accidentally mixed with other plastics during processing, can contaminate the whole batch of recycled plastic rendering it useless. As such, there remains a lot of scepticism around this area.

There have also been concerns with the growing 3-D printing industry. However, far from increasing our reliance on plastics further, some companies are using plastic waste as a viable option for printing, generating a sustainably sourced future.

Paper to digital

It’s quite incredible to see our continued reliance on paper considering the technological advances driving our personal lives and businesses. The term ‘paperless office’ has been used for many years and yet you’d be hard pushed to find one that has completely moved away from paper.

The efficiency benefits of going digital are well documented and when you also consider the huge reduction of waste it appears to be a no-brainer. It won’t be long before more and more businesses adopt a digital process culture.

Of course, that in itself causes another issue. Back in 2010, the US generated 258 million units of e-waste. At present, most of this toxic waste is shipped to third-world countries where it remains unrecycled. At the moment no one has an answer to this growing problem, but it is one that can’t be ignored. Our only hope is that discussions between governments and recycling industry leaders result in innovative practices that can be adopted worldwide.

Mandatory composting to deliver energy from organic waste

How much of your food waste do you compost?

Probably not a lot, in fact, in the US alone only 5% of the 26 million tons of food waste avoided landfill in 2012. That means our landfill sites contain tons of food that could be turned into nourishing compost for either personal or commercial use.

A change in the way we think is needed to encourage more people to compost their food waste, or the introduction of countrywide programmes for organic material composting. A move in this direction could promote the growth of the anaerobic digestion technology, leading to a new energy source with the introduction of large-scale bioenergy plants.

Recycling innovation

Changing consumer demands and increasing environmental awareness are driving the introduction of innovative practices that will not only reduce waste but also rejuvenate it into energy products.

Will we ever reach a point where there is no waste? Probably not, but that doesn’t mean we should shy away from the challenges we are facing.

With the constant reminders of the fragility of our world, EA Recycling continues to strive to reduce the waste burden and innovate to deliver the most eco-friendly commercial solutions possible to its customers that balance business and environmental interests.

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