On Global Recycling Day, EU4Environment encourages industries to rethink waste as a valuable resource

Our planet’s resources are running out. Today’s production processes are yielding billions of tonnes of natural resources, which would soon dry up. The role of such alarming realities is to steer individuals and industries alike into rethinking the way in which they produce, and more important, consume everyday goods and services. This way, what was once solely rendered as waste, can become a valuable resource and an opportunity in the transition towards a Circular Economy.

This is the rhetoric behind Global Recycling Day[1], an initiative celebrated each year on 18 March that underscores the urgent need to prioritize recycling as an integral part of resource efficient and sustainable production. According to a report by the United Nations Environment Programme (UNEP), global resource extraction and processing have tripled over the past 40 years, as the extraction of primary materials increased by 94% since 1980, with devastating impacts on the environment, especially in terms of deforestation, soil erosion, and water pollution.[2] In the European Union (EU) alone, according to the European Environment Agency (EEA), around 2.5 billion tonnes of waste are generated each year, with 35% being industrial waste. The most common types of industrial waste here include waste from mineral extraction, construction and demolition waste, and manufacturing waste.[3]

But when it comes to manufacturing or industrial waste, enterprises can benefit from several methods to reduce resource consumption and minimize pollution and litter. For instance, in the EU’s Eastern Partnership (EaP) region, methodologies such as Resource Efficient and Cleaner Production (RECP) are becoming increasingly popular amongst Small and Medium-Sized Enterprises (SMEs). Thanks to the EU-funded, EU4Environment programme, RECP and Industrial Waste Mapping (IWM) are introduced in selected industries by the United Nations Industrial Development Organization (UNIDO.)

Here, IWM was recently conducted in six pilot areas in Azerbaijan, Georgia, and Ukraine. The selected areas involved over 2,700 companies and were located in Absheron-Khizi and Baku Economic Regions in Azerbaijan, Rustavi and Zestaponi in Georgia, and Davydiv Village Territorial Community and Slavuta City Territorial Community in Ukraine. Industrial waste mapping is a method used to quantify and demonstrate the distribution and management of waste within a geographic area. Its overall objective is to identify, assess, and map the waste streams of manufacturing enterprises in order to develop options for improved resource efficiency. This includes the analysis of the collection, transport, treatment and disposal of waste, together with the monitoring and regulation of the waste management process and waste-related laws, technologies, and economic mechanisms. An efficient waste management system then creates increased business value for any manufacturing enterprise. This contributes to the sustainability of industries and the promotion of economic opportunities. And whilst the IWM exercise conducted by UNIDO focused on the waste journey of selected types of waste (including quantities, transport, destination, key stakeholders, collection costs and post-treatment market value), the proposed solutions, alongside the estimated material and financial implications, can be further expanded and replicated to other areas, and to the EaP region, as a whole.

As well, establishing an efficient waste system would be impossible without tapping into the principles of RECP. RECP is a well-established approach that helps industries do more, with less. RECP is all about minimizing the use of resources (including raw materials, energy, and water) and reducing waste and pollution, by covering both low-hanging fruit opportunities (such as good housekeeping practices) as well as medium and long-term investment opportunities. So far, over 70 companies (with over 10,000 employees) from the EaP countries have been provided with almost 120 RECP measures to help them improve their production and resource use. As well, in 2022 alone, over 70 companies were members of 10 RECP Clubs (clusters of enterprises situated within the same region) as part of EU4Environment. So far, the RECP Clubs enterprises were provided with RECP options to improve their manufacturing processes and decrease pollution and waste.

Such initiatives are geared towards enabling the selected industries to address the resource-related challenges and promote sustainable development. The importance of industrial waste management cannot be overemphasized either, as proper waste handling and disposal in industries, as well as the implementation of measures to reduce waste and prevent pollution, are crucial steps towards achieving this goal.

Recycling plays a pivotal role in industrial waste management as it enables the reuse of materials that would otherwise be disposed of in landfills or incinerated. Another opportunity for industries to minimize their industrial waste is by investing in means to recycle and promote industrial synergy. It can help share resources (such as materials and energy) between enterprises. Moreover, utility synergies can be activated at the infrastructure level, throughout supply chains and in industrial parks, by sharing services and activities, or even interlinkages and urban collaborations at various levels (industries, city/municipality, and so on). This practice helps reduce waste and pollution while also lowering operational costs (as one industry’s waste product can serve as an opportunity for another).

Investing in recycling and industrial synergy is not only essential for reducing waste but also for stimulating economic growth. Recycling can create employment opportunities and support local economies, while industrial synergy can lead to cost savings and increased competitiveness for businesses. Moreover, sustainable industrial practices help industries comply with environmental regulations while enhancing their reputation among consumers. All in all, the celebration of Global Recycling Day reinforces the importance of prioritizing recycling as a key aspect of sustainable development, be it through RECP practices, a sound waste management system, or the investment in opportunities for industrial synergies.

[1] Global Recycling Day

[2] UNEP, Global Resources Outlook 2019

[3] Source: EEA, Waste statistics – overview

Published on March 18, 2023


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