The Answer to Supply Chain Woes? Better Recycling

Going Green with Brown

Supply chain challenges are top of mind around the world. Material shortages and port back-ups limit goods entering the United States and other countries. There are several factors influencing this, however, a consistent factor is the lack of materials available for the manufacturing process. 

Can materials recycling strengthen the supply chain and build a better foundation for a circular economy?

The Current State of the Circular Union

The United States EPA has been tracking recycling efforts for the past 35 years. The latest data shows a 2.2% increase in recycling in recent years, and 69 million tons of municipal solid waste being diverted from landfills and recycled in 2018. However, the recycling rate of organic waste being diverted from landfills decreased by 2.2% (6.3 to 4.1%).

China’s National Sword policy banning the imports of most plastics and other materials has greatly impacted recycling rates in the US. Chinese manufacturing plants were previously able to recycle plastics and reincorporate them into their manufacturing process. The United States has not adjusted to the implementation of the Chinese National Sword policy. As a result, landfills have increased tipping fees and some localities have pulled back on recycling programs.

Rather than sending our waste management systems spiraling into further inefficiency, these current issues can be an opportunity to enhance the circular economy.

From Waste to Value

The key to leveraging recycling to improve the supply chain can be found by reading between the challenges—here in the gaps, there are opportunities. 

First up is solving the problem of contaminated plastics so they can remain in the supply chain. The majority of contaminated plastics still find their way to the landfills, bypassing recycling. Improving sorting and sterilization technology is one method to help in this area. Advancing thermochemical conversion technology will also increase the efficiency of plastic recycling and reduce landfilling. Thermochemical conversion can make use of plastics #3 through #7, extending the lifespan of the material.

Sufficient infrastructure to handle the recycling process is lacking in the United States. According to a 2017 United Nations report, only one-fifth of electronic waste is recycled. That means four-fifths could be recovered and reused.

Private-sector industries have an opportunity to become strong partners in the circular economy by building a network of incorporating recyclables into the supply chain. 

Read Between the Shortages

It’s clear that we’re facing a materials shortage in supply chains, and demand isn’t decreasing anytime soon. The notion of using less and keeping things longer isn’t proving to work—waste is only increasing. Combined with recycling, the circular economy can improve supply chain sustainability. To put this solution in motion, industries should look for opportunities in the shortages they’re currently facing. How can you fill a void with would-be waste?

Do you have a waste-to-value or low-carbon project in development or on the horizon? Explore our build-to-spec solutions

Bernard Brown

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