Waste: who should benefit?

I totally agree with the argument that the current domestic recycling system is fundamentally flawed, in that much of the ‘work’ is effectively delegated to the consumer. Furthermore, it is not only the work…the more the recycling and waste treatment that is needed, the more the consumer has to pay for his local tax fees. In some places, the council openly claims tax for the recycling facility. Who should be paying and who should be making the money from it?

This said, there is a flaw that runs much deeper. The problem is that recycling in its current state is effectively another economic activity. This means that when considering it on a scale of the country as a whole it counts as POSITIVE for the GDP. What does this mean? More waste = more recycling = better for GDP. So countries that produce LESS waste, have a lower score for waste treatment on their GDP. Surely it should be on the contrary…the LEAST waste produced, the MORE POSITIVELY it counts for the GDP. So, environmentally friendliness is currently NOT considered part of economic activity unless it is cleaning up the mess. (the same goes for cleaning up industrial accidents such as chemical spills). There is talk amongst the financial accountability world that this situation needs to be reversed, so that the real values of efficiency can be rewarded.

The EU government is also beginning to realise that the waste situation also cannot continue if we don’t want the be wading in waste in a few years time. Referring to the Mr. Danones and Mr Carrefours of the world, indeed any producer of packaging waste; the EU government has recognised that the quantity of waste is increasing and that the governments are having trouble finding decent solutions for it (considering that space for landfill is becoming limited), so have decided to start passing back the responsibility to the producers. There is currently EU legislation coming into place in the packaging industry which is part of the Producer Responsibility set of directives. This means that the packaging producer HAS to start taking responsibility for a percentage of the waste that is produced by their commercial activity, which means recovering and processing it so that it doesn’t go to landfill, normally by paying a third party organisation to do it. This is causing great controversy and problems with compliance within the packaging industry, and discussions continue about how to effectively comply without the economic impact becoming too great for the industry involved.

Of course, where does the money come from to comply to this? Effectively it is boiled down the chain back to the consumer who pays an extra premium on the packaging. So the cost and the responsibility for choosing one product over another is that of the consumer. So the consumer pays the extra premium on waste ful packaging, the local tax fees for clearing it up, and has to do the work of separating and making sure the packaging goes in the right bin.

Speaking again of the consumer: what is not currently happening in the domestic recycling industry is effective innovation that takes into account allthe actors along the chain, and their benefits. In other industries the consumer is studied closely and is the target of all manner of marketing studies, context of use observations, segmentation, studies on identification of specific needs, but particular attention to the benefits the consumer would enjoy from ‘buying in’ to the product or service. In the domestic recycling industry, this is NOT happening. In what other industry is the consumer expected to carry out daily actions, without being paid for it, but because it is expected ‘for the public good’ by society? There are very few examples.

In the long term, what the problem needs is a systemic solution to the problem. Do we want to reward for producing waste? or, Do we want to reward for producing less waste? Do we want to reward/benefit from processing waste properly? In which case, does quantity also get taken into account? Do we want each actor to benefit from recycling? If so, how?

What we need in the short term are some innovative solutions that rectify the current situation for the consumer, which is simply the ‘worst of all worlds’.

How could we see the consumer as a mutual beneficiary? How could we design new businesses based around the domestic recycling industry that really answer the problem? How much of these new solutions would be product based, and how much service based?

In NODE with the experience we have in studying the actors and their needs in the value chain, we are capable of identifying short term solutions to this problem, but still set within the context of the long term.

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