Few industries have taken advantage of the opportunity to convey the benefits afforded by recycling. Not least in terms of a reduced carbon footprint or how much more material can be introduced into the circular economy by way of successful initiatives. Progress in recycling has huge potential in terms of how industry communicates sustainability.
Industrial companies have long been aware of the economic value of recycling. And most know how well-structured waste management mitigates the risk of operational disruption in production. The latter can be described as a red rag for every manufacturing industry. The powerful environmental benefit of recycling is on the other hand more rare in the external communication of industry. All too often you can trawl industrial companies’ websites, social media, and even sustainability reports for good examples and find nothing. Historically speaking, the values of waste management and recycling have not been regarded as an obvious area to take advantage of in industry communications. Instead, companies emphasise things like lower energy consumption or smart features for users and buyers of the company’s products.
In other words, there is huge potential to be leveraged. Recycling has a significant environmental benefit. Through its recycling of iron, metals, plastics, paper, and other materials, an industrial company can help to reduce carbon dioxide emissions substantially. This is often in the region of tens of thousands of tonnes of carbon dioxide per year. In some cases, even hundreds of thousands. The explanation can be found in the value of recycling from a sustainability perspective as compared with producing products from entirely new materials from mines, forests, or other virgin natural resources. Being able to wax lyrical about this in both internal and external communications is invaluable. Other examples include progress with new recycling solutions and more efficient transport solutions.
The benefits of recycling need not only be expressed in terms of tonnes of carbon dioxide, which many people find difficult to comprehend. The benefits can instead be expressed using more pedagogical examples. One example is when we at Stena Recycling helped an industry to take care of its organic waste by refining it into biogas. The energy value of the organic waste was calculated and could be compared with the energy consumption of the factory. It turned out that the energy value of the waste equated to being able to operate the entire facility for one week a year. In this way, somewhat cryptic and meaningless waste and CO2 figures were turned into a clear example of the benefit of turning waste into a comprehensible resource – not least for all the workers handling the waste. In addition, this initiative was given a prominent place in the company’s sustainability report.
I’ve worked with communication in the recycling industry for more than 20 years, and I can safely say that sustainable material handling and recycling has never been as hot a topic as it is right now. The eyes of the world are looking at the climate, and increased insight into the limited resources of our planet has contributed hugely to this. Industry’s growing demand for recycled plastics and other materials for products is also driving interest in a well-developed recycling system. And these go together to create an expansive market for recycled materials. This is a very positive development, and a means of giving hope to the outside world.
At Stena, we can see how giving easy access to current data on waste management makes it easier to produce reliable data for communication. Increased knowledge of the benefits of recycling various waste fractions and trends that depict the progress in graphical terms shorten the first leg substantially.
So – hand on heart – when did you last communicate the benefits of your recycling and improvements? You probably have more nuggets of information than you think, which you can use in your communications to employees, customers, authorities, and others who you’d like to perceive you as a role model.