If you have followed the series on why we need to create green supply chains you will have found actionable steps to value the waste created in your logistics. You will also know that recycling is the last step towards a waste-free operation. Indeed, it is not a great solution because the processes require a lot of energy. Materials such as plastics may not be the same grade and properties as the virgin material since down-cycling is more common rather than true recycling. I believe it has its place where a deep investigation and redesign of the products and operation has not been done – yet.

For instance, some plastics have properties that are hard to reproduce with better material for the same price and aluminium is a very convenient material, very eco-friendly when reused.

As always, I foresee you having to pledge the need for greener operations to your leaders so I shall help you answer the question.

Why should I recycle?

In a first part, I will explain how recycling is a step towards improving your reputation among suppliers and consumers. I will then discuss cost saving possibilities that go hand in hand with recycling programmes. In the last part, I will offer you to seize the opportunity for taking a step towards a closed loop economy, benefiting your operations in the long run.

Photo by Bas Emmen on Unsplash

Improved reputation:

Customers and suppliers benchmark your company against another, they want to ensure their values suits them so it will suit their own clients in turn. This can be a deal breaker for winning clients or keeping your current customer base. Your waste management will improve your reputation among your suppliers, customers, employees and insurers by having better accreditations. ISO 14001 accreditations are given to sites that have a holistic approach to waste management.

In the same way you are reviewing your supply chain’s sustainability and your suppliers’ suitability, another company will be doing the same and can cross you out of the list because your vision doesn’t align with theirs.
This is also true for end customers who are becoming more and more aware of the idea of dollar voting – buying what aligns with your values assuming you will end up influencing corporations’ decisions.
If you have reduced your waste, replaced materials with more ethical ones and taken the other steps recommended to move towards less wasteful operations,
Taking tangible steps towards being a more ethical company have pushed many mainstream companies to have ethical clothing lines such as H&M with Conscious, shoes made out of recycled plastic bottles as Adidas x Parley collection or make sustainability their main brand value as Lush. This has been done by inviting consumers to bring their old products back to create a closed loop as I will touch upon later or by using post-consumer recycled waste.

Above attracting new customers or adding in the value of their products, it allows a company to experiment with different materials. When you miss the first mover advantage an organisation has to catchup with what competitors have set as the new norm. For instance, after many cosmetic shops came under the spotlight due to their heavy plastic usage they developed reward programmes for disposing of the products one by one setting a standard service.

The ones who are late to implementing can see a backlash for lack of care. You are also prone to having to implement programmes you don’t believe in for the sake of saving your public image.

The recycling logo is one of the most recognised logos for accreditations in the US making your effort stand out. A simple move such as offering public recycling facilities in your stores brings people to your location, therefore, potential customers who could end up spending money on your products. It participates in creating an image of a company whose values include environment protection. You can use the materials in your good production, sell it, improve your image and capture new customers all at the same time. Customers and companies need to work in symbiosis to make recycling possible, easier and viable. It would also solve the eternal chicken and egg problem of companies expecting customers to demand greener products before they change their ways and consumers feeling hopeless and changing their habits.

Photo by Raul De Los Santos

Cost savings

While rethinking all your products and materials for recycling is a long-term strategy, starting to recycle within your facilities and implement a return scheme isn’t as difficult. There are two steps to this process: ensuring what can be recycled is and designing more recyclable materials.
It will save you money WRAP (Waste and Resources Action Programme) estimates establishing green practices within the office only could save you £1000 per employee and you will be saving on landfill taxes maybe selling what you used to pay for.

A man’s trash is another one’s treasure

A few examples

A hospital was paying for the disposal of blue wrap and decided to sell it instead found a buyer, another who saved $15 000 annually by selling waste they used to pay to get disposed of.
General motors saved $12 million by establishing a reusable container program with their suppliers and set a new standard for the industry.

Closed loop economy

This means creating an economy where new resources are not used and instead existing materials are used indefinitely. This ensures that your company will be able to use their materials in the very long run, when oil runs out and plastic is taxed because it is polluting so much. Another benefit is optimising market risks as items’ cost can fluctuate immensely such as gold used for some electric circuits. The ethics of mining gold being questionable, it saves you from researching new materials with similar properties and ensures your design can still go on for long (exploitation of miners, children handling other toxic materials as mercury…). Fair trade gold is more expensive and requires a lot of resources to assess the values of the certification. This makes a case for recycling old electronic material and designing your products for easier recycling of the components.

As mentioned before, a few companies have incentivised customers to bring back products in their facilities and organised return logistics. This creates another service value chain by disposing of the item for your customers and offering greener products in the long run.

As recycling is the last step towards limiting waste in operations it is important to make sure items are recyclable, recycled and not sent to landfill instead. Improving or creating recycling programmes offer companies an opening to new market, customers or strengthen their relationships with their stakeholders. Designing a product for recycling and creating recycling programmes that encourage recycling materials inside and outside the organisations’ doors is crucial for lessening the environmental impact of operations. Those come down to design and asking how a product can be designed for recycling but also behaviours that can be used to encourage recycling among your employees or customers. Another side effect of green changes are to boost staff morale as they feel they are part of a big positive change for the world rather than add to the problem


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