Recycling Gets Smarter as Demand Grows and Technology Evolves

By Catherine

Written by Catherine Bolgar

Recycling gets smarterTo understand how recycling will evolve in the future, follow the money.

“The reason recycling happens is because you can make money. Nobody aspires to pick through somebody’s trash. They have to have an economic incentive to do it,” says Adam Minter, author of the book “Junkyard Planet: Travels in the Billion-Dollar Trash Trade.” “Good intentions don’t turn old beer cans into new ones. If you want to have a sustainable recycling industry, you have to focus on the economic side of it.”

Recycling revenue in the European Union from seven main categories almost doubled to €60 billion from 2004 to 2008. Recycling revenue fell in 2009 along with the global economic slump as because prices for secondary materials fell but it has since recovered, according to Eurostat.

Recycling isn’t just about the environment—it’s about manufacturing. “The recycling industry is a raw-materials industry,” Mr. Minter says. “It competes with mines, forests, oil drillers.”

Indeed, improving technology now makes it possible to recycle an aluminum can using 95% less energy than to make a new one from raw material.

China is the biggest importer of waste for recycling. While China is a low-cost country, the picture is more complicated—after all, wages in China are about 10 times more than those in India, which imports less waste for recycling. The key is that China, as the world’s largest manufacturing nation, needs the raw materials.

Recycling follows manufacturing. If there isn’t demand for raw materials, recycling isn’t going to happen,” he says. “We’re entering an era of relative resource scarcity. Everything has gone up in price because there are more middle-class people in the world who want more resources. As raw materials become scarcer and more expensive, recycling will grow. If there’s value in something and it can be transported to a recycling plant, it’s being recycled now.”

Take Christmas tree lights, an example Mr. Minter details in his book and one that illustrates how recycling is likely to evolve in the future. The U.S. has many wire recyclers, who reprocess power lines and other kinds of wire, provided it contains at least 80% copper. “Anything below that, they’ll pass on,” Mr. Minter says. “Before China came along, a lot of that would go to a landfill. That includes Christmas tree lights, which are about 28% copper. They’re not as worthwhile to recycle.”

However, in the mid- to late 1980s, scrap yards in the U.S. began collecting Christmas tree lights and sent them to China, eventually exporting 20 million pounds of discarded strings of lights a year. At first, the garlands would be burned to eliminate the insulation and get to the copper. However, after 2007 the price of plastic started to escalate, driven by the price of oil.

Suddenly, it became attractive to recover the insulation. So recyclers changed their methods, chopping up the Christmas tree lights and using water to separate the heavier copper from the glass and plastic. The plastic is recycled into items like soles for bedroom slippers, Mr. Minter says. It’s also used to make new Christmas tree lights.

Developed countries tend to see themselves as dumpers of waste, with poorer countries as the dumpees. However,

Recycle sign

“nothing goes from the U.S. to the developing world to be dumped,” Mr. Minter says. “That electronic waste moving from the U.S. to China is being bought. Somebody does it to make money. The means they use to extract value from it might not be clean. But a lot of that stuff is still legal to dump in a landfill,” which isn’t an environmentally friendly solution either.

The generation of waste also is evolving. Members of the growing middle classes in emerging markets are buying and using technology. In 2012, China generated 7,253 metric kilotonnes of electronic waste, and India 2,751 metric kilotonnes; the U.S. produced 9,359 metric kilotonnes of electronic waste, according to the Solving the E-waste Problem Initiative, a global effort of United Nations organizations.

A discarded computer in the U.S. will be shredded, and magnets and other technology used to pull out what’s valuable—about 40% to 60% of the total. However, in China or other developing countries, hand labor will dissect that computer and pull out more than 90% of it for recycling, Mr. Minter says.

The search for raw materials in waste is likely to become ever more ingenious as demand grows and technology creates new possibilities.

Researchers are working on ways to break down thermosets, a kind of heat-resistant, chemically stable plastic that hasn’t been recyclable. And some companies are recycling plastic back into oil. Meanwhile, researchers in Poland have found a way to recover nickel from spent consumer batteries to be used for electrodes in new batteries.

There are constant improvements in the technology,” Mr. Minter says. “But recycling is not the panacea. It just extends the life of materials a little longer. Eventually you need new materials. If you care about the environment, reduce your consumption and extend the life of what you already have. Once you’ve done that, then recycle.”

For more from Catherine, contributors from the Economist Intelligence Unit along with industry experts, join The Future Realities discussion.

Towards Net Positive Impact: A Glimpse into the Sustainable Future

By Asheen

Corporate Knights Global 100At the World Economic Forum at Davos recently, ratings agency Corporate Knights announced their Global 100 Most Sustainable Corporations list from a more than 4,000-company starting universe, and we are excited to be ranked #5. We’re proud of this ranking, but as I’ll explain in this post, we measure our own sustainability progress a bit differently — not as being the most environmentally efficient, as the Global 100 emphasizes, but in being the most sustainably innovative.

This is no sour grapes — we are pretty environmentally efficient. Our high ranking on the Global 100 is based largely on our environmental productivity scores, such as Carbon Productivity, which is a measure of how much revenue we generate per unit of carbon, and the similarly derived Energy Productivity.

Airplane engine exhaust

We enjoy a bit of a sector bump, as software companies generally make a lot of money from limited environmental capital — I often joke that our supply chain consists of electricity and coffee! — but in our case, our Carbon Productivity (revenue per unit carbon) is 75% higher than the next-best software company, and our Energy Productivity is 20% higher. This means that we’re squeezing more value from the environmental resources we consume — which in our case is mainly gasoline, jet fuel and electricity for our travelers and our developers.

But we don’t think this is the end of our story. With more than 175,000 companies designing, engineering, simulating, manufacturing, storing and searching their products on our 3DEXPERIENCE platform, we have the potential to influence a far greater swath of the world’s environmental footprint than that from our own operations. As we build sustainable innovation tools into our Apps and Experiences, these will make the planes you fly in, the vehicles you drive, the clothes you buy and the devices you communicate with more sustainable. Through sustainable innovation, we can “move the needle” on a scale far greater than our own footprint, creating a positive impact that Greg Norris of Harvard University calls a “handprint“.

Handprint

So if our positive handprint outweighs our negative footprint — we’re convinced it does, but we’re doing some work now to back this up — then Dassault Systèmes will be a net positive organization. That is, the world will be better off with our company serving it.

As our CEO Bernard Charlès said in a recent interview, “A product exists within nature, its components come from nature, and it will likely, eventually, decompose back into the natural world.  How much a part of the natural world is it?  How much does creating it, using it, and disposing of it distort or damage the natural world around it?  How much energy does it require across this entire life cycle?  We try to develop solutions to help our customers explore these questions so that they can make the most informed, sustainable decisions possible.”

This is the extent of our sustainable innovation vision: to rank highly not just on sustainable indices, but on the scale of society, the economy, and the biosphere, by helping our customers achieve a positive environmental impact on the planet and grow their own businesses sustainably.

Asheen PhanseyAsheen PHANSEY is Head of Sustainable Innovation Lab for Dassault Systèmes

 

Marketing Wind Farms to Local Population in the age of Experience Economy

By Karun

Wind turbines farm on sunset in winterNowadays, offshore wind is grabbing most of the headlines especially in Europe. With several countries running out of land for wind turbines, they are looking towards the sea. However, 80% of the wind energy capacity is still from onshore or inland wind farms. There is still plenty of land in countries like the US and Brazil, which are still looking to develop their onshore wind capacity.

Onshore wind farms occupy a large area and have to frequently co-exist with agricultural land and tourist areas in the countryside. Probably the most complex challenge for these wind farms is to overcome any opposition from the local population. The question that most Wind farm developers have is – How to convince the local population of socio-environmental viability of the Wind farms?

In this era of the Experience economy, the solution is to provide a platform for all citizens to fully understand the impact on their day-to-day life. An immersive and interactive virtual 3D environment can be used to demonstrate the operation of wind farms in context of the local terrain including the details like access roads, local dwellings, roads and even power lines. Views from various vantage points can be analyzed to ensure that any visual impact from the wind turbines is acceptable. Advanced functions like noise and shadow flickers could be developed on this platform. By experiencing the operation of the wind farm under various operating conditions, citizens can be convinced about the project viability and convince them of the co-existence of wind farms in the existing land.

Such user interaction enables citizens and consumers to become part of the Wind farm development process promoting a sense of ownership. It allows the project developers to connect with the local population and ensure that their concerns have been adequately addressed. With the advent of social media, citizens have learnt to express themselves more freely. In several countries, citizens expect and even demand such a platform to view and collaborate on a social platform on such key topics that touch their lives.

Getting early buy-in from all stakeholders including the local population is mandatory during the project development process. This will ensure that there are no expensive delays to the project. Such delays significantly affect the margins and ROI and significantly alter the economics.

Such Experience platforms are frequently used in the other industries like Offshore Oil & gas for Operations and Maintenance and training. Can the Wind industry take advantage of this?

To learn more, go to Energy, Process & Utilities page and watch our video:

YouTube Preview Image

Karun CHAKRAVARTHY is a member of the Energy, Process & Utilities (EPU) team

 



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Beyond PLM (Product Lifecycle Management), Dassault Systèmes, the 3D Experience Company, provides business and people with virtual universes to imagine sustainable innovations. 3DSWYM, 3D VIA, CATIA, DELMIA, ENOVIA, EXALEAD, NETVIBES, SIMULIA and SOLIDWORKS are registered trademarks of Dassault Systèmes or its subsidiaries in the US and/or other countries.