The waste management industry is set to have an exciting 2022, with new environmental regulations, the use of digital technologies and the focus on the circular economy combining to improve sustainability.
Kate Stubbs, Director of Business Development and Marketing, Interwaste Group
While there is recognition at the highest level of the need to urgently address climate change and restore biodiversity, even high-level summits like COP26 have yielded mixed results.
Nonetheless, the facts are quite clear: humanity needs to change both its behaviors and actions if it is to hope to meet the demand to ensure a sustainable planet for future generations.
The good news is that I think 2022 will be seen as the year for implementing new processes and models to ensure such a sustainable future. One of the key drivers of innovation and change in the waste management industry is the existing environmental legislative framework, in particular some of the new regulations, goals and strategies.
A good example is the implementation of Extended Producer Responsibility (EPR) regulations. These laws apply to all producers of a product that creates waste and must take more responsibility for their disposal or recycling. This has led to a greater emphasis on the use of recycled products in packaging as well as on the collection and post-consumer recovery of these waste streams.
The EPR rules come at a time when we are well aware of the shrinking airspace capacity of landfills in most provinces, exacerbated by population growth and rapid urbanization. It is also the main driver of the proposed concept of ‘zero waste to landfill’ – the aim being to divert 90% of waste from landfills to more sustainable uses.
Using waste as an alternative fuel
One way to do this is to use waste as an alternative fuel. It is vital that waste that cannot be recycled or reused is reused as an alternative energy source. Transforming waste into energy offers a double value: playing on the principle of zero waste going to landfill and helping to impact SA’s current energy crisis.
Of course, as South Africa only recycles 10% of its waste, the goal of zero waste to landfill seems ambitious. However, thanks to the minimization, recycling, reuse and recovery of this waste – as well as recovery technologies – we can still build a circular economy capable of properly meeting this challenge.
A circular economy model is based on the concept of design without waste and pollution. It follows the hierarchy of waste management principles to avoid, reduce, reuse, recycle, recover, treat and contain waste first, before seeking to landfill it. In light of this, this is an approach that offers huge opportunities to generate more inclusive economic growth, increase employment opportunities, and make positive environmental practices the norm.
This means companies need to consider how to eliminate all unnecessary waste, energy loss and associated carbon emissions throughout their supply chain. They then need to find solutions to ensure that these materials, resources and energy can be “reintroduced” into the cycle.
The crucial digital revolution in waste management
Finally, the digital revolution will also become increasingly imperative as companies seek to leverage technology in various ways to optimize waste management. This can include tracking products and materials throughout their lifecycle to ensure safe and responsible disposal, or using Internet of Things (IoT) sensors on trash cans to signal they are ready to be. emptied or collected.
Other ways to use digital technology include testing autonomous waste collection vehicles or robotics used to sort, separate and process waste. It could even encompass the use of specific green technologies designed for the treatment and treatment of a wide variety of types of waste.
All of these trends aim in the long term to reduce carbon emissions, achieve sustainable development goals and generally reduce the impact of waste on the planet. They are also a response to consumer awareness and pressure on companies to be visibly more respectful of the environment and society.
It is an exciting time for anyone operating in this space, as the waste industry today goes far beyond traditional recycling. In fact, during 2022 I expect the industry to focus more on resilience and long-term sustainability – a crucial approach if South Africa hopes to move into a greener, more profitable future. .