Our exploration of the forces shaping and driving change in the waste management industry continues with a look at another five important trends currently impacting industry development.
Bans and Fees Diverting Common Products from Landfills
Plastic bags and Styrofoam containers have long been considered to be a major contributor to overburdened landfills. In recent years, municipalities have been taking action to reduce the amount of plastic and Styrofoam waste by banning these products in shops and restaurants, or charging a fee to consumers who wish to use them.
For example, many grocery stores nationwide now have a nominal five-cent fee per plastic bag for customers who do not bring their own reusable grocery bags with them when they shop. Similarly, New York City attempted to implement a city-wide ban on Styrofoam takeout containers to cut down on their contributions to landfill waste.
Unfortunately, the initiative proved to be short-lived. After coming into effect in July of 2015, the ban was overturned in September of that year following considerable protest from the restaurant industry.
Moves like bans and fees often prove to be quite controversial. This is largely because of the ongoing debate around whether plastic bags and Styrofoam containers can be recycled in an effective, cost-efficient way.
If the main goal is to keep these items out of landfills, critics argue, then recycling measures could be a better solution than fees or bans. This is because fees are often so nominal as to have little deterring effect, and bans can be challenging to enforce.
This argument carries a good deal of weight with people both within and beyond the waste management industry. For example, an important factor in the overturning of the New York City Styrofoam ban was a proposal from a foam container manufacturer to invest in better cleaning and sorting machines in order to facilitate Styrofoam recycling.
Growing Interest and Investment in Waste-To-Energy
One of the trends pushing the waste management industry towards a more sustainable future is an increasing focus on waste-to-energy technology. Today, waste management companies are developing and investing in ever more innovative ways to transform municipal solid waste and landfill gas emissions into sources of renewable energy.
Waste-to-energy plants, alternative waste-to-energy methods, and sophisticated new technologies are just some of the strategies helping transform landfills from sources of potential pollution to sources of clean energy. Waste-to-energy efforts also have the benefit of saving companies money that would otherwise have been spent on other sources of fuel.
Increasing Challenges with Interstate Waste Transportation
Waste management professionals agree that the industry is at a tipping point when it comes to the question of transporting waste between states. This was a common industry practice for many years – often used by companies to take advantage of other states’ more lenient or cost-effective waste management regulations.
However, importing and exporting waste is facing a growing backlash from states that are tired of being viewed as dumping grounds for the rest of the country. Additionally, many states are having difficulty dealing profitably with waste imports in this age of tighter environmental regulations and higher standards of sustainability practices.
One of the biggest indications that the previous favorable attitude towards importing and exporting waste is changing was the passage of the Trash Reduction and Sensible Handling (TRASH) Act in 2015. The TRASH Act was a piece of legislation introduced by Pennsylvania Senator Bob Casey that would allow all states greater control over the waste they import, including the right to impose higher fees on trash coming from out of state.
Another factor that is causing companies to rethink their waste import/export plans concerns the actual logistics of how the waste is transported. Interstate truck transportation of trash is becoming increasingly costly and harmful to the environment. In response to this, many firms are switching to rail to move waste between states. As the mode of transportation gradually shifts, so too may the practice itself.
Commodity Recycling Costs
The recycling industry is increasingly struggling to keep the cost of commodity recycling down, particularly for challenging materials like glass. Some firms are finding that they simply cannot make a profit on recyclables, which means many of these materials to end up in the landfill.
To combat this, municipalities are increasing their efforts to promote proper recycling practices among consumers. For example, many consumers are not aware that if recyclables are not sorted properly, it costs the recycling industry time and, consequently, money. Some municipalities are also charging consumers a recycling fee to help offset rising costs and maintain community recycling as a viable business model.
More Innovative Collection Containers
Today’s waste and recycling bins come with more amazing features than ever. Some trash cans can tweet their capacity, some use solar power to compact trash as it’s disposed of, and some special animal-proof designs help keep trash safe from prying paws and in the container where it belongs.
Thanks to these technological innovations, the waste management industry can be more efficient in its waste processing and decrease its energy use. These are two qualities that will be critical to a sustainable future for waste management.