Recycling Impact and the Opportunity in its Innovation
At the global level, only about 13% of waste is recycled. When it comes to plastic waste, the statistics are even more harrowing, with around 8.3 billion metric tons having been created and only a mere 9% has been recycled. This varies across the world depending on the infrastructure in place for resource conservation and the kind of economic impact that recycling may have on the particular country. Depending on the position taken on resources conservation and recycling impact factor, some countries are moving towards a more circular economy, in which recycling and its necessary infrastructure is easier to adopt. On the other hand, some countries see a larger economic benefit in producing virgin plastic and business as usual than in circular economy recycling. The issue is that when plastic waste ends up in landfills or in the natural environment, it takes around 1000 years to degrade, making it a lost resource that could still have value and is instead posing a threat to the environment while contributing to CO2 emissions as people continue to opt for virgin plastic. However, there must be circular economy funding to develop the appropriate infrastructure.
With increased awareness about climate change and the impact our activities have on our environment, there is a growing movement towards a more circular economy. As depicted in the diagrams below, the term “circular economy” is based on three principles to explain the circular flow of economy: To eliminate waste and pollution, circulate products and materials, and to regenerate nature.
As the Ellen McArthur Foundation explains, the circular economy flow “seeks to rebuild capital, whether this is financial, manufactured, human, social or natural. This ensures enhanced flows of goods and services”. The opportunities and benefits of a circular economy include better utilization of finite resources by shifting to recycled and recyclable materials in order to reduce the amount of land, water and fossil fuels used to produce new products. It also has the potential to significantly reduce emissions. Product use and manufacturing account for around 45% of global greenhouse gas emissions. The circular approach could reduce the use of resources and cut emissions by 39% (22.8 billion tons). For example, shifting towards recycled materials would decrease the need to produce virgin plastics and synthetic fibers, which would significantly reduce fossil fuel use and associated emissions.
It also poses benefits to health and biodiversity. A lot of the waste produced, particularly plastic waste, becomes hazardous for human health and for biodiversity, by either leaking into the natural environment or being disposed of through open burning, landfills or substandard recycling. Additionally, the circular economy offers a $4.5 trillion economic opportunity by reducing waste, stimulating innovation and creating employment. A circular approach to the plastic industry would offer considerable economic benefits. Less plastic waste in the ocean would benefit industries such as fishing and tourism, by removing the $13 billion in costs and economic losses per year that are currently caused by plastic pollution. Reducing the pollution and toxic emissions that come from the open burning of plastic waste would lower healthcare costs, while reducing fossil fuel use for plastic production would help mitigate climate change and its associated costs.
When it comes to waste management, there is abundant innovation taking place to improve the benefits of sustainable waste management. This includes advanced recycling technologies such as chemical recycling that allow for increased recycling of harder-to-recycle plastic polymers, better quality recycled materials that are up to par with virgin materials, and waste management infrastructure that aims to reduce unnecessary waste and incorporate sustainable measures in its operations. Recycling technology innovation is continuously expanding with scientists constantly seeking ways to recycle plastic in an endless loop and apply it in more industries. There are applications in which there is no suitable alternative to plastic, but it’s becoming more and more possible to replace it with recycled plastic, which makes a huge difference in resources that are needed and the fight against plastic waste in the environment.
Recycling plays a large role in how we move forward sustainably, whether that be in its environmental impact or economic impact. Recyclables save over 700 million tons in CO2 emissions every year, and are expected to save up to 1 billion tons by 2030. Additionally, it offsets the CO2 emissions generated by the aviation industry annually. This is important as reducing and offsetting CO2 emissions is critical in combating climate change.
All in all, the recycled plastic industry is growing as more corporations and brands commit to sustainability targets and it is an industry that can showcase the benefits and potential in a circular economy. It is a solution to dealing with the plastic waste that exists on the planet, and reduces the need for virgin plastic, which has numerous negative consequences. At MikaCycle, we aim to support the scaling of plastic recycling by providing a seamless and reliable way to trade quality recycled plastic. The adoption of recycled materials as an alterable to virgin plastics has been slowed down by the difficulty in sourcing recycled plastic reliably and cost-efficiently. That is why MikaCycle provides a credible, user-friendly, and safe way to address these issues and trade recycled plastic in order to increase the impact of recycling.
What are the top 5 impacts of recycling?
Recycling impacts the environment and economy by reducing plastic waste that ends up in the ocean or in landfills, employing 1.6 million people worldwide, and its contribution to the global GDP is projected to exceed $400 billion in the next 10 years.
What is innovative recycling?
Innovative recycling incorporates sustainability targets and technology such as chemical recycling to work towards being able to successfully recycle more types of plastic while also reducing impacts on the environment in terms of resources need for recycling and emissions reduction.
What impact does recycling have on the environment?
Recycling reduces the amount of plastic waste that contaminates natural environments and poses a threat to biodiversity and ecosystem health.
How does recycling impact a business?
As awareness about companies' carbon footprint and impacts on the environment increase, more policies are going into place that aim to require a base level of sustainable initiatives in many companies. Soon it will become the norm, especially as more policies go into effect in places like the EU where products will have to have a certain percentage of recycled content and as larger corporations like Unilever and Nestle commit to these various targets. Smaller companies will have to follow this move towards increased sustainability to retain customers and remain relevant.
What is the purpose of the “circular flow model” of a market economy?
The circular economy model aims to decouple economic activity from the consumption of ignite resources and designing waste out of the system. It encompasses the idea that there is no such thing as waste if products are designed to last by using good quality materials and optimized for a system of disassembly and reuse that allows materials to easily be renewed or transformed. The circular model is also focused on a transition to renewable energy sources, and builds economic, natural, and social capital. It’s main principles include designing out waste and pollution, keeping products and materials in use, and regenerating the natural system.
What is the greatest economic benefit of recycling?
In addition to generating significant income and employment, recycling can save money by reducing spending on landfills (which charge tipping fees and require significant amounts of land).