The Future of Recycling

Jun 17, 2011 5:45 PM ET

A Greenopolis Blog

A century ago, most of what we threw “away” really did go away. Outside of metals and glass, most materials decomposed rapidly or were otherwise integrated into natural systems. However, during the 20th Century, waste streams dramatically changed with the introduction of synthetic materials like plastics that do not readily decompose.  Now,  in the 21st Century these synthetic materials are getting recognized as “technical nutrients” that can be recaptured and used as the raw material for valuable products. Aided by brand and product specific, location based, social recycling systems, we are getting better at mimicking nature and making us “as smart as dirt” with the ultimate goal of enabling us to capture, recycle and reuse nearly everything, everywhere. Tracking products, packaging and materials through bar codes, embedded chips and nanotechnology means that there is no more “away” for materials to go to, only the next best use. The value of materials is preserved and recaptured, time and again.

Here’s what I think the future- starting today- looks like:

  • Recycling becomes a social imperative; failure to recycle is socially unacceptable, and people will steal your recyclables to get the value from them.

  • Capturing and collecting stuff becomes granular and local. There is an opportunity to recycle whatever is in your hand right here, right now.

  • Consumer brand companies want to avoid “branded litter” on roadsides, in landfills and in our oceans, and  embrace recycled content in their products to distinguish themselves and add value to their brand.

  • Recycling and tracking material via social media will be even more real time and ubiquitous. You’ll be able to brag about your recycling and track your friend’s recycling efforts online, as well as track the bottle or can you recycle back to the manufacturer.

  • As more recycled materials become available, the costs of recycled material will be lower than virgin materials and recycled materials will continuously increase in value.

  • Extended Producer Responsibility- companies being accountable for their products ultimate reuse or proper disposal- will be the law of the land, and an economic requirement.

It’s a brave new world out there, boys and girls. Recycle whatever you can, wherever you can. Get ahead of the coming wave, and stay there. It’ll be a rewarding experience, we promise you. 


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