The worldwide evolution toward recycling has made significant progress during the past few decades. Municipalities, businesses and government agencies have tried various strategies to balance current needs against the demands for more efficient and sustainable waste management. We will see a continuation of this trend in 2016. The industry will be influenced by three trends: the redefinition of what recycling means in the context of a circular economy, further consolidation of the recycling industry and the decline of legislative action on product stewardship.
Here’s how I believe these trends will play out:
1. The discussion over what constitutes recycling will grow tremendously in the next year and directly impact the type of recycling solutions implemented going forward. The introduction of the principles of the circular economy and a broader loop of materials management will influence how we view both product design, recycling and disposal. This will involve moving from recycling for recycling’s sake to closely examining the entire recycling process and minimizing its impact on the environment.
2. In 2016, we will also see the potential consolidation of product stewardship efforts to gain economies of scale and better cost/performance in the marketplace. For continued success, the services and programs built on product stewardship need to gain better traction in the market, be more accessible to consumers and deliver a better value for the dollar spent. Municipalities are already looking at how to move from recycling by product category to consolidating the collection of hazardous waste across multiple categories. The result should be greater clarity for consumers on how and where to dispose of their waste as well as a reduction in the number of entry points into the waste management system.
3. The waste management/recycling industry will have time to explore the issues around recycling and consolidation as the rush to pass battery product stewardship legislation cools off in 2016. Several states that have considered this issue in past years have tabled it for now. Only one state, Maine, has an all-battery recycling bill on its legislative calendar. Of note is Vermont, an exception to this trend and the first and only state committed to a primary battery stewardship bill. All-battery bills have died inmost other states. This means that private solutions will continue to fill the void in battery recycling.
The coming year presents a unique opportunity for the battery recycling industry to step back after years of scurrying around reacting to shifting priorities. It will be a time for us to take a strategic look at the broader environmental implications of the recycling process and redo our policies with an eye to satisfying manufacturer financing and improving consumer access. If we can achieve that, we will be on our way to a successful 2017.