The Top 5 Challenges for Recycling Companies

With the topic of climate change everywhere you look these days and the general public’s growing disapproval of plastic, we have certainly entered a new era in recycling. Governments, companies and citizens are increasingly involved in how we deal with sustainability and the use of scarce resources. Or more precisely: how we will preserve our future.

All of this has an enormous impact on the recycling sector. What I am seeing is a fantastic industry that is becoming a driving force in the movement toward the circular economy. But before we can get there, there are still plenty of challenges that our industry will need to address. These are the Top 5 challenges that many of the companies I visit are facing:

# 1 The chain is becoming more stringent upstream

Everyone, even in countries that are further up the chain, is becoming increasingly selective under the growing pressures of regulatory compliance. For instance, what we see in the manufacturing sector, are businesses that are working from within their own quality management and placing more stringent demands on suppliers. This is creating a need for better process management starting with collection. Continuous improvement has become a must, and it is essentially the foundation of quality management under the ISO 9001.

# 2 Working conditions require constant attention

All of us understand that the business of recycling relies on dangerous machines and equipment. Health and safety are, of course, high on the list of priorities. Your people are your best asset. Even so, there is always a point where ‘business blindness’ sets in. When I’m walking a yard for a health and safety inspection, most of the time I can spot at least 3 or 4 items that need improvement, despite the fact that the coordinator for quality, health & safety and environment has put in a massive effort to get everything right. The fresh pair of eyes is always appreciated, even if the news is not always positive. It’s a good idea to invest in the early stages of the process, as it pays for itself in the long run.

# 3 Rules for cross-border transport are changeable

The European Waste Shipment Regulation tends to be interpreted differently in different countries, and sometimes even in the same country. A transport document that has been filled out incorrectly can set a complete bureaucratic nightmare in motion. In worst-case scenarios, it can even lead to search warrants and the confiscation of the entire administration. Best-case scenario is fines and delays. Neither scenario is something to look forward to. And then if there are changes expected, the whole thing can become rather complicated. Scrap iron labelled as dangerous goods because governments are considering placing cobalt on the hazardous materials list, for instance. This is why I am constantly attending conferences and seminars to stay up-to-date with these types of developments. But luckily, I’m not alone. At Kiwa, we have a lot of specialists who are willing to get right down to the bottom of these kinds of things.

# 4 Standards and guidelines are not always clear

The problem with regulations is that they tend to contain an awful lot of words, but very little explanation. Standards and guidelines are written with all kinds of interconnections and cross-referencing. This inevitably leads to a text that is somewhat cryptic and open to multiple interpretations. In one case recently, even a consultant doing a risk assessment and evaluation project for a client wasn’t fully aware of all the regulatory aspects, which meant his proposed plan wouldn’t have led to the desired results. We were able to work with both the consultant and the client to bring a fresh perspective on the issues. Of course, I certainly don’t know everything either, but when you approach these things together, it makes it much easier to get it right.

# 5 We are heading toward 100% reuse

It is no longer a question of if it will happen, but rather when it will happen. Eventually we will all make the transition to total reusability: 100% recycling. This is something that is happening on multiple fronts simultaneously. Increased wealth creates a growing demand for consumption while, at the same time, our resources continue to dwindle. Reuse is the only real option. What we’re seeing in electronics recycling with the WEEELABEX is that we want to retrieve the valuable raw materials used in electronic equipment in order to be less dependent on certain countries. At the other end of the chain, 100% recycling is already starting at the product design. Also, the secondary raw materials market is booming. I see this in the level of maturity that has been reached in the recycling sector.

Sharing our knowledge

Of course there a many more important developments, but I wanted to share the top five challenges I see most often. Is there another big challenge on your radar? Share it here! Because sharing knowledge is building strength, and that is why we do what we do.