In the media

3 ways companies are using sustainability technology

Yahoo Finance

20 April 2024


Tony Perrotta, PA Consulting’s sustainability and regenerative economy expert, is featured on Yahoo Finance for a pre-Earth Day segment discussing the market opportunities for recycling and waste management companies and steps consumers and global brands can take to be more sustainable alongside Yahoo! hosts Julie Hyman and Madison Mills.

Madison: Earth Day is around the corner and so are earnings results for two top waste and recycling service providers: Waste Management and Republic Services. As these companies look to reach their environmentally friendly goals, we’re digging into the market opportunities via sustainability efforts. Tony, I want to talk to you about this stat you mention in your notes. You say that there is a $12 trillion market opportunity in achieving global sustainability goals. How are the two companies we just mentioned, Waste Management and Republic Services, preparing to capitalize off of that?

Tony: There’s a battle raging for materials, and recycled materials of all kinds. Be it plastic, metal, aluminium, rare Earth minerals, etc. Companies like Waste Management and Republic Services have the ability to take the landfills of today and turn them into the urban goldmines of tomorrow. We’re projected to need a global demand of about 90 milion tons of recycled plastic by 2030, but we are projected to be able to only supply about 60 million tons, so we are already at the starting line with a 50% gap – or opportunity – just in the next 6-7 years.

Julie: Do you think the entities out there, whether it be those two publicly traded waste management companies or the others are indeed rising to take advantage of that market opportunity. Are they moving fast enough?

Tony: I do. I would offer three avenues that these companies are taking as well as many others. First, better mechanical recycling manufacturing processes are definitely growing and on the scene, leveraged by things like vision technology and robotics. And any conversation that includes technology obviously includes AI. Both those companies that you mentioned are deploying those tools at pace, as well as some other global companies. Second, here in the US, advanced recycling technologies are coming on the scene in a major way. So the ability to either use a chemical process or a physical heat process to take hard to recycle materials to return them back to usable form. And finally what we’re most excited about is a move into novel and alternative materials altogether. In this realm you’ve got things like seaweeds, alginates, and plant-based fibers. Some amazing examples like Notpla, and a company that we’ve partnered with, PulPac, which uses plant-based fibers to replace plastics.

Madison: I know you have a really good picture on recycling and unique solutions in the space. Just because we have Earth Day coming up and I could be improving my recycling, what are the biggest recycling mistakes that you see people making, and what do you advise people to do in your own life to make sure they are recycling correctly?

Tony: Consumers can and should evaluate their options for sustainability, where they are in their own journey today. So for example in the world of fashion, 3D printing is an amazing technology but not everyone can afford an Oliver Charles 3D printed t-shirt. Alternatively we’ve got cold laundry detergent available that lowers your carbon footprint, and it now comes in what is considered a more sustainable package. So I think consumers really need to consider where they are in their personal journey and what they can do for their family and convenience needs. More importantly in our opinion, global brands are embracing the fact that consumers want and expect them to do more. For years the narrative has been ‘we have to educate the consumer on how to dispose of our product.’ I think that’s finally shifted to ‘what can we do to make this easier, and make sustainability irresistible.’

Julie: It feels like there has been a certain amount of public cynicism and scepticism that has crept in about recycling. There have been stories out there about the stuff you’re throwing in your bin isn’t really getting recycled. Have you seen a decrease in the amount that people are recycling as a result, or have these companies managed to fight against that perception successfully?

Tony: There has definitely been a perception at the consumer level. This notion of wish-cycling – I’m throwing things into a bin with the hope and expectation that something comes of that material – is certainly true. However we are seeing increased recycling rates. There are a number of states in the US that have just doubled the bottle return rate. So Connecticut for example has doubled it to 10 cents. There are amazing new alternatives in the world of technology to be able to collect that material. These are extraordinarily complex systems based challenges. All technology takes a ramp up period. That combined with the novel and alternative material landscape in the world of material science leads me to be very pragmatically optimistic.

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