When I was in elementary school 25 years ago, we first learned about the importance of being environmentally conscious. We were taught that companies were reluctant to embrace sustainability, because they were more concerned about their bottom line.
A growing number of businesses have changed their tune over the past quarter of a century. They are discovering that recycling and waste reduction can cut costs considerably. Running a green business is also a good way to attract the growing number of consumers that are concerned about sustainability.
Aron Cramer, president and chief executive of Business for Social Responsibility, told the New York Times that there are plenty of economic benefits of waste reduction and recycling, which are spurring more businesses to take advantage of it.
“There are a lot of low-hanging fruits in terms of reduction of inputs and reduction of packaging that can easily help reduce costs… With commodity prices exploding, economics have changed very rapidly, so the economic benefit to accelerate dematerialization is growing… Every day you pick up the paper and you see higher costs for raw materials, which is bad news, but if that creates new incentives for us to use less material, that could be a huge silver lining,” Cramer explains.
Despite the many promising financial benefits of recycling, many businesses are still reluctant to embrace it. A number of myths hold them back. Here are some of the most pressing.
Myth one: The carbon footprint for recycling is higher than that of producing new materials
This is a very bizarre myth that has surfaced in recent years. Some people have speculated that recycling is worse for the environment than creating new materials from scratch. Their reasoning is that the emissions from the trucks that need to pick up the waste and transport it to a recycling facility exceeds the benefit.
Literally hundreds of studies have contradicted this misconception. Research has shown that it takes 56.6% less energy to recycle new materials than to produce products from virgin materials. The energy needed to pick up and transport materials only increases the figure by another 8%. This means that it is twice as energy efficient to recycle than to create new products with raw materials.
Myth two: it isn’t economically feasible to recycle glass and plastics
This myth is at least more understandable, because it used to be true. Recycling first became a big topic back in the 1980s. Back then, we didn’t have the technological capability to sort waste that we have today. Even if we did, the volume of products that people recycled was a lot lower, which didn’t allow for the economies of scale to justify investing in sophisticated mechanical sorting systems.
That is no longer the case today. Municipalities have invested in new eddy systems that use electromagnetic tools to separate aluminum and other metal alloys from glass and plastics. Since recycling facilities don’t need to sort all of these materials by hand, it is much more cost-effective to recycle them than it was in the 1980s.
Myth three: disposing of waste is more economical for businesses and consumers than recycling
This myth has been around for at least 20 years. The Institute for Local Self-Reliance wrote a piece discussing it back in 1996. At the time, they cited research showing that recycling was cost-effective in regions where disposal costs were $33 per ton.
The marginal benefits of recycling have widened in the years since then. Landfill costs are rising as municipalities have less room to store it. Meanwhile, recycling facilities are more efficient than ever. Paper shredding services can also make recycling more efficient, because that make it easier to compact paper waste, so it can be easily transported.
This means that the costs of recycling are considerably lower than the cost of disposal.
The naysayers are wrong. Recycling is a cost-effective option for businesses
Many businesses are starting to accept that recycling can be a great way to pad their bottom line. This wasn’t the cast 30 years ago, but the economic advantage of recycling is growing every year. Businesses that take advantage of it will have a huge edge over their competitors. Their economic advantage will rise as the cost of new materials and landfill storage rises and recycling solutions become less costly.