Simply put, recycling is a win-win industry. It takes products or commodities which have been previously used and turns them into something new, like plastic, or the same exact thing as it was before, like paper.
I recently spoke at the Recycle Confex in Dubai, where industry professionals from around the world over came together to discuss the present and future of recycling.
Speakers discussed innovative technologies that sort through several materials using cameras, color detection, computers etc., to quickly sort through the various pieces of recycled content, as well as machinery to process different materials into bags of specialty pellets or bound pallets of raw material ready to be re-manufactured into new products.
I spoke on how companies like Asia Pulp & Paper (APP) procures and utilizes tons of recycled content in the creation of several products.
From board to paper to packaging, companies can elect to use sustainably sourced, zero deforestation virgin fiber as well as several different grades and types of recycled waste paper to create strong, visually appealing and useful products.
So what lies ahead for the paper industry? Paper companies are looking to use recycled materials to create stronger, stiffer products to carry heavy products – like cement sacks. The industry is also looking at a mix of virgin and recycled fibers which could produce a stiffer packaging product which would work well on long distance voyages, such as those across the sea within large cargo vessels. Though the industry is making progress, challenges still remain.
As far as paper waste goes, recycling works quite well in developed countries and not-so-good in developing nations. I take it for granted, but twice a week my son and I collect all the paper, plastic and glass in wastebaskets around the house and place it at the curb for pickup. The good news is that many other families here in the United States do the same. According to the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, paper accounts for about half of all recyclables collected in the U.S.
About 43 million tons of paper and paperboard were recovered in 2013 — a recycling rate of about 63 percent for paper, 67 percent of newspapers/mechanical papers and 89 percent for corrugated cardboard.
The not-so-good news? According to a fellow conference speaker, in a fast growing and developing country like India, the recycling rate for paper is much lower. In India, only about 20 percent of waste paper is currently being recovered, annually.
The way I see it, the challenge ahead is two-fold.
The first: Create infrastructure, investment and opportunity in developing countries to build strong recycling programs. Also, perhaps offering financial incentives or educating young school children would also help. It may take several years, but by investing in world-class recycling programs, it not only creates jobs and renewable materials,, but will save natural resources and reduce trash destined for landfills or the incinerator.
The second: It will give pulp and paper companies additional recycled materials to create the products millions of consumers use every day. It also gives R&D teams the recovered waste stream to consider future items designers can only dream about right now.
After hearing from the experts and seeing the technologies and excitement at this global get-together, my hopes for a larger recycled future have been renewed! (See what I did there?)
Michael McManus is a vice president for corporate affairs, communications & government relations for Asia Pulp & Paper in North America.