The future of recycling isn’t what you think

Online since 31.08.2016 • Filed under Industry news • From Issue 4 - September 2016 - February 2017 page(s) 28-29
The future of recycling isn’t what you think

Our dominant linear ‘take-make-consume-dispose’ economy is unsustainable. Dwindling natural resources and growing demand are inescapable. It is only a matter of time before certain resources are no longer available as virgin commodities. So, what is the difference between a circular economy and a recycling economy, and why should we care?

Circular economy thinking moves away from waste: it looks at preventing the waste rather than managing it. The recycling economy on the other hand focusses on recycling waste so that it doesn’t end up in landfills, but is reliant on waste to survive. So which is the best approach to tackle the severe environmental and socio-economic issues we face, and drive much needed new industry development while ensuring that manufacturers’ bottom line goals are achieved? ‘In a recycling economy, little attention is paid to the manufacturing or design stage. However, as long as the recycling process is independent of the design stage, it cannot address the long-term challenge of incentivising manufacturers to change their processes. This would mean using less raw material, reducing energy use, and making products that have a reduced negative impact on the environment,’ says Stacey Davidson, Director at REDISA (Recycling and Economic Development Initiative of South Africa). The circular economy promotes a sustainable industry where product design is influenced to make environmental and economic sense for manufacturers. ‘The main difference between the circular economy and the recycling economy is that manufacturers are incentivised to change and develop better design processes. This is becoming a reality in South Africa through an approach that was lauded by the World Economic Forum in Davos in 2016 as a successful model,’ she adds.

 Integrated Waste Tyre Management Plan

 It is estimated that there are 60-million waste tyres lying in stockpiles around the country, many of which are illegal and unsafe, or simply dumped in open fields. REDISA’s Waste Tyre Management Plan defines a unique approach to waste stream management that is a world first, developed in South Africa and making the local tyre industry a national and world leader in recycling. The REDISA Integrated Industry Waste Tyre Management Plan (IIWTMP) was approved by Environmental Affairs Minister, Edna Molewa, and published in the Government Gazette in November 2012. It supports and promotes tyre recycling, providing the collection and depot infrastructure required to collect waste tyres from across the country and deliver them to approved recyclers. ‘Tyre producers (manufacturers and importers) are charged a waste management fee on every kilogram of new tyre rubber produced. The funds collected are then applied to developing and supporting the collectors, storage depots, recyclers, and secondary industries that make products from recycled output,’ Davidson explains. REDISA is, and is required to remain, independent from the tyre industry and from the tyre recycling industry. This avoids conflicts of interest and allows REDISA to make decisions in the interests of the country as a whole rather than of specific industries or industry participants. ‘In South Africa through legislation and regulation, the tyre industry has ensured that tyres, severely damaging to the environment, do not become waste at the end of life. In line with promoting a circular economy, manufacturers will be incentivised to shift their product’s design to cradle-tocradle manufacturing techniques,’ Davidson points out. Another of REDISA’s current projects is the funding of a Product Testing Institute to be completed by 2017 that will provide an environmental rating system. The rating system will promote the development of tyres that, when considered over their entire lifetime from manufacture to end of life disposal or recycling, have minimal environmental impact. These tyres will of course be able to be recycled, but the focus goes far beyond only recycling. ‘A better product will obtain a better environmental rating from the Institute, and this in turn will mean that manufacturers pay a lower waste management fee to extended producer responsibility organisations such as REDISA. Those products that obtain a poorer environmental rating will pay higher fees – thereby driving the shift to greater sustainability in the South African economy,’ Davidson maintains.

Environmental insurance

Manufacturers are happy to make products, consumers are happy to buy products, but the full monetary cost of a product is not being taken into account because it excludes the cost of remediation. At the end of a product’s life, there is no-one to take responsibility for it and it becomes waste that is dumped. ‘Consumers are inadvertently paying the price and subsidising manufacturers who are not forced to develop better processes to manage their products’ end-of-life and to reduce emissions and reliance on raw materials. We pay indirectly through air pollution, environmental degradation, landfills filling up and resultant health impacts. What we need is an insurance policy for the environment, one which ensures that those who create the end environmental problem pay to fix it and factor the cost into their cost of manufacture. The lower the environmental impact of a product, the less environmental ‘insurance’ the manufacturer will need to pay in the long term,’ she insists. ‘At REDISA we recognise the possibilities that lie in circular economies, specifically for all those willing to look at waste not as waste but as a commodity. Through its recycling processes, REDISA enables socio-economic transformation by generating jobs, empowering the informal sector and creating sustainable businesses, as well as protecting the environment,’ Davidson comments. ‘South Africa is the only country in the world that has made this a reality with 100% industry participation using the tyre industry as a proof of concept. Since 2013, the environment has been ‘insured’ against the negative impact of waste tyres.’

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Issue 4 - September 2016 - February 2017

Issue 4 - September 2016 - February 2017

This article was featured on page 28-29 of SABI Magazine Issue 4 - September 2016 - February 2017 .

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