It’s been said that one person’s trash is another's treasure, and as society places more value on recycling than on the disposal of waste, this maxim becomes increasingly applicable.
Manufacturers have long been leaders in recycling waste byproducts, increasing that activity by 35% over a decade. At the same time, while there’s a willingness to recycle, market factors work against this goal, as transportation costs increase and manufacturing labor markets tighten. In addition, the number of outlets for waste byproducts tends to ebb and flow depending on the state of the economy.
Zero-waste goals are abundant in today’s manufacturing world. Yet producers remain sensitive to the economics of recycling versus landfills. This clash between sustainability goals and cost becomes a central focus in considering whether to invest in circular recycling.
In its simplest form, circular recycling uses the waste byproduct from one production process to create a new product in another. It’s about extending the life of materials for as long as possible.
Circular recycling is part of the “circular economy,” in which companies begin with the end in mind when developing new products. They take into consideration reuse, reduction of labor, minimization of carbon output and similar goals that feed into a regenerative economic system.
Circular recycling begins at the granular level, with the challenge of handling, sorting, packaging and storing waste byproducts in a way that allows the next user to utilize them as ingredients in its own products. In the process, manufacturers can improve their return on investment.
It’s important to remember that while circular recycling is the goal for many manufacturers, their primary focus remains making revenue-generating products; they’re not in the business of making money from recyclable materials. The tight labor market, space constraints, economics and environmental regulations all present challenges for manufacturers wishing to take part in circular recycling.
To get involved in circular recycling, manufacturers can work with recycling companies that specialize in bridging the gap between waste byproduct generation and end-users seeking to use recycled products as ingredients. With this partnership, manufacturers can find appropriate outlets for byproducts while fostering new relationships that can impact future business.
Recycling companies work with manufacturers to classify their waste byproducts by identifying the precise types, how they’re produced and how they’re collected. By understanding how much of a given type is produced monthly, they can find outlets that are able to utilize them as ingredients in new products.
The process can be as simple as identifying, labeling and collecting waste byproducts. In other cases, it might involve more in-depth participation from the manufacturer generating the waste. This requires implementing different types of collection methods, such as moving away from a roll-off and instead placing the product into super-sacks, drums or gaylord boxes.
Contaminated waste byproducts might need to be removed from consideration, but small changes might make them desirable for another company, and recycling companies can help determine whether this is viable or not.
Investment in circular recycling isn’t just essential from an environmental standpoint; it can also be a smart business decision. With the right partner to implement recycling programs, manufacturers can realize a new stream of revenue while also saving costs.
Various recycling partners will specialize in different waste streams, and depending on the production process, manufacturers with multiple types of waste byproducts would benefit from a partner that takes a holistic approach to recycling. One with a broad knowledge of creative solutions can help manufacturers that are looking to contribute to the circular economy.
Each manufacturer must strike a balance between its ability and desire to participate in circular recycling. But in many cases, finding a recycling company that understands how circular recycling works can open doors that weren’t available to them before.
Mike Wright is chief executive officer of Wisdom Environmental, Inc., a specialist in developing recycling programs for business, industry and manufacturing.
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