It’s Hot Out There

It’s Hot Out There

At the height of the summer and ahead of Clean Up the World Weekend, Tom Szaky and Naama Karmon from TerraCycle describe eight hot environmental trends that we should expect in the near future.

The past decade marks an interesting period for the environmental movement – eco-friendly furniture and fascinating technological inventions; legislation and regulation and steadily growing recycling worldwide; energy streamlining and extensive accountability by manufacturers and consumers, along with increased accessibility and scale of systems and infrastructure. At the height of the hot summer of 2014 and with a hoard of non-stop inventions and initiatives – as well as ever-emerging environmental problems – here are eight hot environmental trends to look forward to.

Limiting the use of plastics

Plastic is certainly a wondrous substance – rigid and light, durable and strong, inexpensive and flexible in terms of its uses. But it’s no secret that the process for perishing plastics is not only pollutant but even harmful, besides lasting hundreds (if not thousands!) of years. The impact is extensive – land and water pollution, emissions of toxic gases, and even harm to the animals who eat plastic waste in its various forms. In the next few years we can expect increasing limitations on the use of plastics in industry, growing amalgamation of its various types in packaging compositions, and the spread of laws prohibiting the supply of free plastic bags in food chains and stores (on the basis of a model which was introduced in San Francisco last October).

Similar legislation is already being furthered in Israel.

 

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The perishable product market has been growing consistently for years, and demand is expected to increase by another 19% by 2017.

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Complete transition to digital, eliminating print

In recent years government ministries, public systems and even governments have furthered treaties and agreements regarding the transition to digital management systems instead of printed forms. This trend is also evident in Israel, although in government ministries in particular, or in bureaucracy-intensive systems, it is somewhat hard to notice it. In the foreseeable future we will be seeing more and more initiatives advocating the transition to digital communication, just as some of us are already doing with our cellular carriers or banks, with the aim of minimizing the use of paper. The next stage will include a discussion on the giant servers that need to store and carry all this information and the considerable pollution they themselves generate, but this is a subject we will add to a future list of trends, which may perhaps provide a response to this problem as well.

Development of perishable packaging and materials

The perishable product market has been growing consistently for years, and demand is expected to increase by another 19% by 2017. Disposable products (cups, plates, cutlery, etc.) made of perishable biological materials are attracting great attention, as they are a "magic solution" that allows us to cause the environment less harm by making just a small change to our consumption habits. However, it is important to pay attention to what calling a product "perishable" means and to carefully check where we are meant to dispose of these products in order for them to truly perish (a subject on which we expanded in a separate post). In the next few years we can expect all-embracing uniformity in this sphere, from clear standardization surrounding the term "perishable" through to a detailed description of recycling systems which must be used for the material to indeed perish, coupled with the increasing development of more and more products whose packaging is made of biological materials able to serve as a substitute for the harmful packaging we use as a matter of course today. 

Compostization becomes an obligation

In 2012 an eco-friendly solution was found for only 5% of organic waste in the US (a staggering amount of 26 tons!) that did not involve landfills. This means that millions of tons of organic waste are deposited in landfills each year, which otherwise could have been turned into excellent compost for agriculture and private and municipal use. What a waste! Not only are we throwing away materials that could serve us repeatedly (instead of using virgin or artificial materials), but the "garbage juice" (leachate) created when organic waste mixes with the stream of general waste generates problematic runoff, which in turn pollutes land and water. As a result, more and more municipal authorities worldwide are working on waste sorting plans to separate organic waste from the waste buried in landfill sites. This trend is also spreading in Israel – to our delight! - and we can expect that by the end of the decade waste treatment systems which do not separate wet and dry waste will be a thing of the past in most developed countries.

Extended corporate responsibility

Corporate promises of social or environmental responsibility are becoming increasingly institutionalized, to the point where in the near future they can be expected to go from being promises to becoming an organized, supervised list of obligations. Already today, large organizations around the world are taking their CSR to total and absolute levels (see this Swiss carpet manufacturer, for example) and generating the appropriate return on their investments.

The aspiration to achieve extended producer responsibility covering all stages of production – from the plant to the offices through waste, emissions and energy, as well as the product life cycle (i.e. what happens to the products until their use is complete) – is what has lead increasing numbers of companies to join forces with us at TerraCycle with the aim of finding a solution for their product waste, which otherwise has no environmental solution on the national level.

In Israel as well, our activity has expanded in the past year in the form of a second program with Strauss Group, and today we are running two collection and recycling programs with the company – for the collection of salty snack bags and yogurt and dessert cups. These programs well reflect a clear trend among corporations of expanding their circle of responsibility, and thus – their circle of influence as well.

 

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renewable non-polluting energy sources will be able to supply 80% of Israel's anticipated energy requirements in 2040

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Systematic treatment of electronic waste

We all use electronic appliances – obsessively! – whether it's because we upgrade to more sophisticated models each year or because the products are simply not durable enough and their malfunction timeline is growing steadily shorter. Either way, electronic waste has become a real problem which can no longer be overlooked (by way of illustration, a problem weighing 48.9 million tons in 2012 in the US alone, 130,000 tons in Israel).

Legislation and regulation, along with the tangible value of the raw materials that make up this waste (precious metals and reusable plastic), will in coming years allow for a substantial reduction in e-waste destined for landfills. Thus, already last March a corporation was established in Israel for handling this waste, and e-waste can now be recycled in stores, gas stations or even by messenger who will collect the waste from your home when you buy a new product.

 Large-scale energy streamlining

Already in 2013 the Israel Energy Forum's report showed that given maximum energy streamlining (in households by changing behavior patterns as well as through the promotion of green construction), renewable non-polluting energy sources will be able to supply 80% of Israel's anticipated energy requirements in 2040 (!), as opposed to just 38% without energy streamlining. The data in this research reveal a trend which has proven itself in other countries, and one where Israel needs to catch up – the waste of resources and use of contaminating fossil fuels must become a thing of the past. 

More waste separation, more recycling options

Israel's Packaging Law was passed in July 2011, and since then it has spread – albeit slowly – among the various authorities. The law is not the first of its kind in the world – far from it. It reflects a growing trend of placing the responsibility for packaging waste on its manufacturers, or more precisely, on the manufacturers of the products. Similar laws exist in 18 other countries where TerraCycle is active, and continue to expand into more countries – a trend we can expect in the near future. As these laws take effect, we at TerraCycle gain support and reinforcement for a large-scale process, which is already in place and is only expected to expand, of steadily increasing recycling options for consumers – paper and bottles, batteries and cans, and now packaging, too.

This is accompanied by the development of new technologies for the recycling of an abundance of products we never knew could be recycled – for example, TerraCycle recycles cigarette butts in five of the countries in which we operate. Expectations are that in the coming years the waste streams for which there is no environmental solution will greatly diminish (until they disappear).

 This list presents trends and intentions, but it also reflects where we need to aspire to and where we still need to improve. As Clean Up the World Weekend approaches, it's worth taking advantage of the opportunity to think about the quantities of waste we generate and the low separation level we apply to these quantities of waste today, which becomes pollutant and dirty waste, instead of turning it into a resource.

Perhaps this marks another, comprehensive trend we can expect in the near future – treating our waste as a resource rather than as a nuisance.