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Is technology friend or foe in the quest to meet recycling targets?

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Is technology friend or foe in the quest to meet recycling targets?

As I sat listening to Karl Folkenberg, Director-General for Environment at the European Commission at a recent Circular Economy theatre seminar at RWM 2015, it struck me – as a technology professional – about the impact – positive and negative – that technology makes to the amount we recycle both as consumers and organisations within manufacturing and waste collection

Mr Folkenberg set out the context for a circular rather than linear economy, in which he stated that “waste is out” – with rising human consumption – we will need raw materials from 2.5 planet Earths in order to satisfy demand by 2050.  With the UK (37% municipal waste to landfill) lagging behind our European counterparts in achieving recycling targets, he called for a change in waste policy approach across the board, in order to achieve what countries such as Germany, the Netherlands, Denmark and Sweden have.

Technology’s impact throughout the circular economy

If we start with manufacturing – could technology hardware companies help by moving away from short life consumption models which encourage, for instance, consumers to throw away their smart phones in line with tariffs, contracts and software updates rather than when the device is broken?

The increase of the repair and re-use service industry has counteracted this consumer behaviour but how long is the shelf life of a product to enable this long term?  Manufacturers can design products to last and allow for the provision of secondary raw materials back into the circular economy. To maintain consumer acceptable pricing will mean cost reduction, ERP best practice, value analysis and other programs to reduce product costing. But this is another topic for another day.

Technology within waste recovery and re-manufacturing has had a positive impact in allowing industries to recover these materials – so called “urban mining”, Kark Folkenberg’s example was of a Belgian organisation in the Congo who had altered their business model for gold mining; it takes 7g of raw gold to keep a mine open whereas 350g could be recovered by this approach.

Technology has also helped with the increased safety in recovering materials such as copper as well as allowing for the energy recovery capabilities from end of life plastics and the ability to be reprocessed back into the recycling circle.

At the household end of reducing waste to landfill, we have recently blogged about how technology can assist local authorities in engaging with consumers in how and what they recycle.  Software such as Microsoft Dynamics CRM and Social Engagement help with internal collaboration and the delivery and analysis of tailored multi-channel marketing campaigns to help local authorities improve the quality and quantity of their recycled materials by targeting their given audiences – business and residents with key messaging and campaigns

Industry specific waste management ERP software solutions such as Prodware Adjust Waste and Recycling also enable organisations within this sector manage waste collection, processing, storage, recycling and disposal in a more integrated, compliant and productive fashion with full reporting capability to allow for granular analysis of performance against targets and KPIs.  By bringing best practice established across Europe, not only adherence to regulation but operational savings can be attained.  A Win /Win scenario for operators, brokers and specialist recovery operators.

So as I came away from the seminar at RWM, I was heartened by the role that technology can play throughout the circular economy and that on a professional basis, Prodware’s experience throughout manufacturing, distribution and waste management means that we have an important part in the success of achieving less waste to landfill.  Take a look at our circular economy video and contact us to find out more.

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