Our view of seven sustainability trends on the rise in 2021
Sustainability trends suggest a shift towards a more circular system is beginning.
In the last 70 years, mass consumerism and a maturing linear system (make, use, throw away) have changed how we view resources.
The term ‘waste’ can infer little or no worth. All resources, effort, energy and time that goes into making products are dismissed in a single word and often after very short lifespans.
Sustainability trends in waste management
Times are changing. Although landfills and incinerators continue to fill and mindsets still need shifting, rays of hope are on the horizon.
2021 looks to be a year of accelerated change in the waste management world.
Here, in our view, are seven sustainability trends to watch closely over the course of the year.
1. Capturing methane
Landfills emit 15% of the world’s methane emissions, a potent greenhouse gas 28 to 36 times more powerful than CO2 at trapping heat in the atmosphere.
Waste Management, one of the largest waste management companies worldwide, focusses on capturing this methane and using it to run its natural gas-powered fleet of vehicles.
Hopefully this system will also encourage other companies to capitalise on their own methane emissions.
2. Ending the single-use wave
Every additional six-month delay on the ban of single-use plastics results in hundreds of millions more items filling our landfills and oceans. China also recently decided that it would no longer (unsurprisingly) accept non-recyclable waste, heightening the landfill situation further.
Thankfully, we believe legislation is within reach and will force change.
For example, Canada is banning the majority of single-use plastics by the end of this year with Montreal aiming to have a zero waste policy by 2030.
Other countries including France, Taiwan and Kenya are in hot pursuit, many having already banned plastic cups, plates, cutlery and bags.
3. A puzzling affair
Combined with a widening variety of plastics and mixed-polymer plastics on the market, sorting waste is, in our view, a complex issue.
Good news though. Advancements in sorting technology continue to make headway in alleviating the pressure for waste-to-product companies such as Renewi.
However the system is still heavily reliant on humans separating out the different plastics at a maximum rate of 30 to 40 recyclables per minute. 2021 will be the year AI becomes prevalent. Increased sorting accuracy and efficiency enables AI-powered machines to sort 160 plastic items per minute.
4. Upping the recycling ante
Increased customer pressure and new legislation are pushing brands to think carefully about their design choices.
Whilst fiscal policy changes (for example a tax on all products that do not hit a 30% recycled-content threshold will be introduced in the UK in 2022) will drive some decision-making, others will be good-will, or value-led (the value of recycled materials especially rare earth could be significant which creates an incentive to recycle), such as the surge in battery technology recycling research by companies like Umicore.
5. Collaboration is king
Waste is, in our view, a systemic issue. Brands trying to solve the situation alone generally stall early on.
A global collaboration, it researches different methodologies to help reduce, recover and recycle the ever-increasing plastic production by companies. Findings are open source so all companies can benefit.
6. Thinking outside the box
Designing out waste completely is the ideal scenario. Unfortunately, society has become less and less circular over the decades. Only 8.6% of waste worldwide is recycled and the figure is getting worse.
Rethinking the way products are designed with end of life in mind will change this. DS Smith, a global packaging solutions company, now trains all of their designers in Circular Design Principles to help them hit their 2023 target of producing 100% recyclable or reusable packaging.
7. Is alternative better?
Sustainable paper-based packaging’s popularity has increased tenfold and Smurfit Kappa is leading the charge.
However, many other brands are turning to plastic alternatives such as plant-derived materials that claim to be biodegradable. Despite sounding green on the tin, in reality they typically only degrade in highly-controlled environments.
Although new varieties of such materials encourage consumers to lower their plastic consumption, they can wreak havoc on a waste management system not capable of processing these materials.
Though it’s not obvious, solutions, partnerships and innovations are being worked on behind the scenes. Working collaboratively is the only way to productively move forwards. Invest your money in companies pioneering the way and accelerate the rate of change.
With investing your capital is at risk. Information is for illustrative purposes only and does not constitute investment advice.