Back to the #future# - 10 trends for the future of recycling and waste management (continued)

As most of my readers already know, my passion is to bring recycling and waste management at the forefront of the global agenda - I want to make it as trendy as it is to speak about New York Fashion Week (although sometimes this is really ridiculous) with designers like Vera Wang, Coach, Oscar de la Renta, Rodarte and Tory Barch. I believe the key to such an effort is the content.

So, I made a short but necessary break to write about my report "Wasted Health: the tragic case of dumpsites" and now I am back to complete the list of the trends that will reshape waste management and recycling.

Well, up to now I have described 4 trends (out of the ten) that will reshape the future of recycling and waste management - namely

10 trends that will reshape waste management - Trend #1: Internet of Things

Technology of the future - Trend #2: New materials - new waste - new recycling technologies

Back to school: Trend #3: SWM industry should study thoroughly E-waste management

Get prepared - the following video highlights what's coming to my next blogs and also what has been already addressed - it also gives an idea of the content of my upcoming paper and presentation on the future of waste management and recycling.

Coming soon: Trend #5: Marine litter


Wasted Health: dumpsites are global health emergency

At the same time the world makes huge steps to use mobile phones for health protection (as it the recent case where mobile phone records can be used to predict the geographical spread and timing of Dengue epidemics - See more here), important elementary problems that concern billions are still ignored. And of course we are all happy that the declaration for an Embola free Africa by the end of 2015, but looking closer it seems that the roots for pandemics are still growing in many cases in Africa, as its dumpsites are getting bigger and more widespread. 

Well, yesterday ISWA launched my recent report on the tremendous health problems that are generated from dumpsites - you can find and download the full report here and the press release here.
The video below describes briefly the report's highlights and captures its spirit.

First of all, the main outcome of the report is that dumpsites have become a global health emergency and not just an important environmental issue - its impacts influence the lives of billions of people, directly and indirectly. Some more comments:

1. The health consequences from dumpsites are not as dramatic than we all thought - they are much more worse and they are getting worse day by day just because the waste that is brought to dumpsites is increasing continuously, especially in the developing world, due to urbanisation, increase of the GDP/cap and the rise of the new middle class with its own intensive consumption patterns.

Wasted Health: the tragic case of dumpsites
2. There are countries like Indonesia, Philippines and India where scientific evidence shows that the health impacts posed by dumpsites are higher than the ones posed by malaria! This is an unbelievable development, which shows that underestimating the waste management challenges creates a new health landscape dominated by dumpsites.

3. The rising e-waste stream is not yet fully studied and understood in terms of its health and environmental impacts - however all the available studies demonstrate new and very high health risks - in the report you can find a lot of references from China and SE Asia that document the impacts posed by dumping e-waste.

4. Using some elementary calculations, it seems that the annual cost of the health impacts posed by dumpsites are in the order of billions or decades of billions per year - using 50% of this amount of money for helping developing countries resolve their waste management problems will have positive economic, environmental and health impacts on the long-term and save many thousands lives immediately.

There is an urgent need for action by the international community  - as a good friend told me recently, our message for decision makers must be as simple as this "you can't say that you don't know".

Special thanks to David Newman, ISWA's president, for his contribution. Many thanks to Niki Mavropoulos (Waste Atlas manager) for her extensive research and acknowledgements to my colleagues Costas Velis (prof. The University of Leeds), Vivek Agraval (Chair of ISWA's Working Group on Collection) and Nikos Rigas (D-Waste graphic's designer) for their ideas and practical help. 


China's stock market crisis and recycling Trend #4: Market volatility and emerging business models

I have to thank you for the enthusiastic emails I received for the previous 3 blogs on future trends for recycling and waste management - however, it will be very useful of some of you would publish their views as comments, rather sending them directly to me - in any case it is obvious that we need a lot of discussion about it, so all the comments are more than welcomed and useful. Back to work now.

What is China's interest rate?
Will China lower interest rates?
What interest rate do we pay China?
Why is China cutting interest rates?
Why doesn't China want the U.S. to raise interest rates?

All those questions are on top of each and every business discussion those days. However, China's and India' growth provided the background for the viability of most of the recycling systems worldwide. Will it still be the case? 

Back to school again - we need to study the lessons taken by the recycling markets and reimagine the way forward.

Let's move to trend #4: Market volatility and the emerging new business models.

At the same time Fitbit arrives to India, creating the background for wearables recycling programs, there is a growing pressure to the viability of recycling programs due to the following factors.

1. The past decade was characterised by the biggest commodity boom in history, fuelled by rapid Chinese and Indian growth. But the market has shifted and structural issues are now being exposed. High material prices are no longer fundamental for the viability of recycling viability of recycling services.

2. Falling commodity prices at the back end are enabling manufacturers to be more demanding with regard to their inputs. This means that prices are down and at the same time quality demands are going up. The mismatch between these two ends of the recycling supply chain is squeezing everyone in between.

3. Especially in EU, "this fundamental market shift has shown how exposed operators are to volatile material prices. In the highly competitive environment of the waste service industry, where margins are bid away to very low levels, it doesn’t take much of a fall in prices to erode that safety net and put contracts at risk" as it was explained by ESA's executive director.

Of course the problem is not simply European, it becomes global as there similar signals from USA recycling market too.

If you add on top of this, the long-term trends for energy prices, then there is a clear conclusion: the recycling and waste management industry have to re-invent their cost structures and business models, they have to rethink profitability, risk-sharing and diversification in order to create viable businesses on the long-term.

At the same time UBER fights for its business models in Rio de Janeiro, the erosion of the current dominating business models comes from another source too. And this is the emergence of new business models that stimulate circular economy approaches, like sharing practices, replacing ownership with service models etc. Those business models are generated from new answers to five simple questions:

  • How can we design our products with asset recovery in mind?
    How can we develop product lines to meet demand without wasting assets?
    How can we source material in regenerative loops rather than linear flows?
    How can we develop a revenue model that protects value up and down the chain, and
    How can we get our customers to cooperate with us?
So, finally the conclusion is simple but crucial. Both recycling market volatility and the emergency of circular business models demonstrate the importance of well-designed and adaptable business models for the long-term viability of successful waste management and recycling systems. At the same time, there is a growing emphasis for high value for money ratios and functional but still low cost solutions especially in the developing world. It seems that the recycling and waste management industry must reinvent itself - why not?