The recycling industry’s growing pains

Contrarian reality

At many of the recycling companies I visit, the people I encounter are usually seasoned business owners who know exactly what they are doing. Many of them have been in the business for decades. However, one of the things I find is that companies often still have difficulties with a fully documented compliance with current standards and guidelines.

As auditors, we are constantly working with standards, guidelines and regulations. That is our business and that is what we are trained to do. The recycling industry, on the other hand, evolved from a business demand, before there were any complicated regulations or international agreements. It is that history rather than any intention that makes the reality within the business different from the regulatory standards.

A lack of structured data

As one of my clients once said, “There is no official education required to start a recycling company”. The changeability of the day-to-day operations means there is no structured data available, because there is no method for gathering it. To be sure, there are plenty of companies that are well organised. But we would be remiss if we didn’t note how difficult it is for a recycling company to answer to the continuously shifting regulations placed on them.

Grey areas

The thing that makes the industry so fascinating is also the thing that makes it complicated. There are so many international, technological and political developments that grey areas are inevitable. And once one of these grey areas has been sorted, new grey areas appear somewhere else. I am lucky enough to have access to the combined knowledge of international information systems, specialist colleagues and other experts to help figure out how to solve an issue. That is also the challenge: finding answers so that others no longer have to in order to use them in their own organisation. Occasionally, I encounter a company that is literally struggling to survive because they are forced to prove again and again, and in a very time-consuming way, that they are complying with the relevant regulations. The problem is usually down to changes in international regulations. When we can solve that issue, it also means one less grey area for other companies in that same situation.  

Growing up fast

The first-generation business owner in the recycling industry is usually keenly focussed on the practical operations, but we are also seeing a new generation coming up that understands both practice and theory. The older generation that didn’t have the luxury of starting out by translating theory into practice is now relying on a new, and often well-educated, generation. It is fantastic to see how the younger generation of sons and daughters are showing a serious interest in taking over the business and working to position the company in the international market.

Current industry developments are creating a need for recycling companies to mature quickly, as more specialised knowledge and technology is required. The market for secondary raw materials is growing tremendously, and society – by way of both the consumer and European policies – is moving forward in the transition toward the circular economy. I like being able to take an active part in this through my work at Kiwa.

If you have any questions after reading this blog, please don’t hesitate to contact me