By Christy Hurlburt
From the February 2018 Issue
Recycling elicits a feel-good response from consumers, and facilities are able to point to these efforts as part of an organization’s overall environmental responsibility. But this perspective about recycling is changing in the global waste industry.
China’s decision to ban the import of 24 recyclable materials went into effect on January 1, 2018, and the world has experienced a frenzy of frustration that recyclables are no longer able to be conveniently shipped away. Now waste facilities, haulers, waste generators, and everyone throughout the supply chain are forced to handle this issue at home.
With materials piling up, what if instead of focusing on recycling, we put more emphasis on reduction first? Can we turn this ban into a positive opportunity for facilities now forced to approach their existing waste and recycling systems from a different outlook?
Rethinking Recycling Bins
Tossing something in the recycling bin inherently feels better than putting it in the trash. But if recyclables start going into a landfill due to a shortage of recycling centers in the U.S., facilities must rethink their current mindset and practices. Burying waste is cheap, quick, and easy, but it’s not sustainable. Facilities can instead focus on being environmentally-friendly by emphasizing the first of the three Rs in “reduce, reuse, recycle.”
China’s new policy is forcing all stakeholders to take a deeper look at facility systems to better understand where waste is produced—both trash and recycling, so we can find ways to reduce the materials that are eventually thrown away. Once it’s understood where waste is coming from, facilities can take more responsibility for their waste generation. Rethinking the current waste systems offers positive, long-term, and localized solutions for facilities.
What Else Is Happening Overseas?
European policies are in place that address high volumes of waste and the generators responsible for them. The extended producer responsibility (EPR) regulations have been working in Europe for decades, increasing accountability for who is creating waste and therefore, who is contributing most to landfills. Examples include deposit take-backs and advanced disposal fees, which have helped reduce waste management costs and incentivize package reduction and recycling overall.
Meanwhile, U.S. states like Massachusetts and California have implemented similar policies such as take-back rebates and the Bottle Bill to incentivize people to keep things out of landfills. To make a major impact, more widespread policies and enforcement in the U.S. are likely going to be necessary, and facility executives can take an active stance in managing and ultimately reducing their waste.
For example, they can work with their suppliers to reduce the packaging coming into their facilities or buy goods with higher quality materials, which therefore last longer and don’t end up in their dumpsters (or landfills) as quickly.
Take A Look At Technology
New waste processes and technological advances will help manage waste throughout the supply chain, using data to help identify where reduction can occur. Connected, smart technology is increasing across facility operations today—even in facility waste containers.
Implementing IoT technology at the dumpster level, for instance, allows facility managers to better understand volumes of materials that come in and out of their facilities. Waste services providers can use the data from waste container sensors to identify changes in volume and understand what is making up the garbage that facilities produce. This enables them to offer data-driven insights to help with waste reduction, and ultimately improve facility operations.
An Opportunity For Facilities
Beyond the positive brand reputation or environmental impact message, facilities may not give their trash and recyclables much thought today. But, China’s recycling ban presents the opportunity to refocus the current systems and make positive changes for lasting impact.
By implementing regulations similar to those in Europe and requiring producers to be more responsible for their packaging and product life cycle, facility managers can provide incentives for reduction while avoiding landfills. And with connected technology, facility waste processes are more transparent. Insights about where waste is coming from can help identify areas for improvement.
The responsibility of our recyclable waste has been placed back in our hands. What is your facility going to do with it?
Hurlburt is vice president of marketing for Enevo, a waste services provider within the retail, restaurant, and multi-family industries. Prior to joining Enevo, she managed Cascadia Consulting’s corporate sustainability practice, helping clients with the planning and implementation of their waste reduction and zero-waste goals. Hurlburt has also held roles as the director of marketing for Bosch Solar Energy and founder of Spark Change, a sports in sustainability consulting group.
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