The World Bank estimates that 2.2 billion tonnes of trash are created annually worldwide. Of total rubbish, about 270 million tonnes are recycling; that’s the weight of 740 Empire State buildings.These startling figures, which are the consequence of both rapid increases in industrial and population growth, have made recycling a significant worldwide sector. Alongside the rise in environmental consciousness and the number of people pursuing jobs in sustainable and ethical business operations, recycling has been steadily expanding.
Recycling is not just a self-contained business but also a cornerstone of the CSR models that the majority of organizations have embraced.
But what does recycling hold for the future? And what kinds of career paths and courses are available in this field? Everything you require is provided here.
Explore the Contents
- 1 Why do we recycle?
- 2 Will there be more recycling in the future?
- 3 Climate change and the impact of recycling
- 4 Which industries have the biggest recycling challenges and opportunities?
- 5 Recycling mini-glossary
- 6 The changing face of recycling and the north south divide
- 7 Innovations and the future of recycling
- 8 Final thoughts
Why do we recycle?
In nations that have the infrastructure in place, recycling has become a routine task. It is among the easiest things that regular people may do to protect the environment. Recycling what we use is crucial because the disposal of solid waste accounts for about 3% of greenhouse gas emissions worldwide (food waste accounts for an additional 6%).
Recycling lowers the quantity of garbage dumped in landfills and the carbon footprint of creating goods from scratch using resources like plastic, metal, glass, paper, card, fabric, and other materials.
Recycling is “an ethic of resource efficiency – of using products to their fullest potential,” according to Stanford University. Because the base operation is not repeated, using recycled material rather than fresh materials to create new products conserves energy and natural resources. For instance, it requires 95% less energy to make a new aluminum can using recycled aluminum than it does to make the same can from scratch using bauxite.
Because of the amount of digital technology we use today and in the future, we must increase our ability to recycle the computers, smartphones, and batteries that power these gadgets. Our E-waste course is ideal for you if you want to advance your career in the science and mechanics of recycling.
Will there be more recycling in the future?
Governments in wealthy nations have outlined environmental regulations that indicate recycling will continue to grow in scope and volume over the next 25 years. Beyond that, recycling might rank among the most well-established industries globally if goals are met.
To give an indication of possible outcomes, the UK government has set a goal to eliminate all unnecessary waste by 2050. This entails employing solely resources from recycled or recyclable products rather than single-use ones, and/or recycling all waste in the UK.
By 2025, 50% of plastic packaging needs to be recyclable and recycled, according to a goal established by the EU.
Even though these goals can change when new production techniques are developed, the industry is still expected to expand.
We have a fantastic course that will teach you how governments make decisions about climate change policies. The instructors are specialists in climate policy from the Institute for Energy Research and the Adam Smith Centre.
Climate change and the impact of recycling
Knowing the “reduce, re-use, recycle” circular economy is essential to guiding economies toward sustainable futures as the threat posed by climate change grows.
Industries ranging from food to fishing to fashion are reassessing their effects on the environment and on regional and international societies.
One tonne of recycled office paper, according to Stanford University research, prevents the discharge of an astounding 4,100 Kw/h of energy, nine barrels of oil, 54 million BTUs of energy, 27 kg of air pollutants, 7,000 gallons of water, and 3.3 cubic yards of landfill area.
Even more energy is saved when one tonne of plastic is recycled. Furthermore, recycling plastics in a “closed loop” system prevents their quality from declining over time—a more desirable result than recycling them in a “open loop” system, which causes the quality to decline.
Reducing our consumption of goods, reusing the things we already own, and recycling the raw materials used to make those products will all contribute to a significant decrease in greenhouse gas emissions when the circular economy is normalized.
The Royal Society of Chemistry has added two additional R’s to the three R’s: rethink and re-design. This means that in order to address the huge waste concerns that will face recycling in the future, we must be more creative in the way we create and manufacture things.
Enroll in our Beginning’s Guide to Environmental Science course to find out more about identifying solutions to the environmental problems that modern civilizations face.
Regardless of the sector you operate in, our Microcredentials for Leadership and Management may provide you with the knowledge and skills you need to prepare your company for a sustainable future and lessen the impact it has on climate change.
Which industries have the biggest recycling challenges and opportunities?
Waste management and recycling are necessary in almost every sector. Four have been chosen because they offer the greatest prospects for education and employment.
Food production and waste present enormous opportunities as well as challenges. There is potential energy in all that rotting food, even while decomposing food and the carbon footprint from wasting (food produced but never eaten) contribute significantly to greenhouse gas emissions that must be decreased. Methane, which is produced when food breaks down, can be used as a fuel substitute for fossil fuels like gas and oil.
With the help of our knowledgeable instructors, discover cutting-edge recycling techniques such as upcycling chewing gum, bread, and grains. Learn everything there is to know about producing food sustainably and take a close look at the waste that comes from the two billion cups of coffee that are consumed worldwide each day.
Manufacturing has multiplied unimaginably from the days of the industrial revolution to now, and with it the invention of plastics has led to all kinds of pollution problems, including 12 million tonnes of plastics flowing into our oceans each year. Currently just 9% of plastic is recycled globally. But new innovations in recycling could change things. More on that below. Read up on reducing plastic waste and how ‘recommerce’ is changing our consumption habits in our useful FutureLearn blogs.
In our fascinating new course Ghanian Creative Solutions to Textile Waste you will learn that a shocking three-quarters of all textile waste is incinerated or sent to landfill. In an open step from our Upcycling course you’ll discover that it takes 2,700 litres of water to produce one t-shirt. Imagine how wasteful it is to simply throw that t-shirt in the bin? Find out how you can innovate to transform this damaging situation, generate jobs and make fashion a more sustainable industry.
“Every year, close to 50 million tonnes of electronic and electrical waste (e-waste) are discarded – the weight of more than all commercial airliners ever made,” according to the International Labour Organization (ILO). This material is estimated to be worth $62.5 billion, which is “more than the GDP of most countries.” While millions of men and women worldwide—more than 600,000 in China alone—work to collect, repair, refurbish, dismantle, recycle, and dispose of e-waste, a large portion of it is done in hazardous working circumstances for both the environment and human health, only 20% of e-waste is recycled.
With our expert-led courses, you may learn how to manage e-waste and how unsustainable behaviors affect the poor world.
- The circular economy: minimizing, reusing, and recycling
- Downcycling is the process of making new, lower-quality items out of discarded material.
- Energy recycling is the process of repurposing waste energy at big establishments to generate electricity.
- Electronic waste is the term for discarded devices that may be poisonous or dangerous.
- Utilizing waste material to create trash is known as food upcycling. The effects of excessive food production and waste on society and the environment
- Garden garbage, sometimes referred to as “green waste,” is essentially plants and leaves that can be recycled into compost or mulches to create high-quality new products.
The changing face of recycling and the north south divide
The majority of the plastic and paper recycling exports produced by the G7 countries were shipped to China, where businesses paid for the waste and processed it in massive factories, creating enormous profits for its manufacturing industries and for brokers from international waste disposal firms, as well as employing an army of Chinese workers. For two decades, China and the West dominated the global recycling industry. The US continues to be one of the top exporters of garbage and recycling products.
However, China imposed limits on the quantity and kind of recycling rubbish it would import in 2018. This created a crisis for the recycling sector and begged the questions of what would happen to all the trash going forward and whether recycling would eventually come to an end.
After China’s crackdown, the recycling sector saw a period of stagnation and the nation’s need to incinerate more waste than before increased. However, the recycling exports from the West swiftly resumed, and other nations—mostly Asian—became China’s primary consumers of recycled materials from the West. These countries included Malaysia, Vietnam, Thailand, India, and Taiwan.
In 2024, Bloomberg revealed that recycling was actually seeing a surge, despite reports to the contrary. Considering that the world’s industry is dependent on recycled resources, this is not surprising. The emergence of circular economies has led to an approximate 40% share of recycled materials in raw materials used in manufacturing. Recyclability rates are rising in nations like the US. A plant that can make 680,000 tonnes of paper annually from recycled waste paper started in Wisconsin last year. Additionally, efforts to significantly expand China’s internal recycling infrastructure in order to address plastic pollution are under way.In 2021, Bloomberg revealed that recycling was actually seeing a surge, despite reports to the contrary. Not surprisingly, considering that the world’s manufacturing depends on recycled resources. The emergence of circular economies has led to an approximate 40% share of recycled materials in raw materials used in manufacturing. Recyclability rates are rising in nations like the US. A plant that can make 680,000 tonnes of paper annually from recycled waste paper started in Wisconsin last year. Additionally, efforts to significantly expand China’s internal recycling infrastructure in order to address plastic pollution are under way.
However, when examining the recycling disparity between the West and the rest of the world, China recycles only thirty percent of the plastic that it produces domestically, and recycling rates are considerably lower elsewhere in the globe. More than 90% of the garbage produced in low-income nations is usually burned or disposed of, resulting in pollution that harms local ecosystems, endangers public health, and exacerbates the issue of climate change.
Furthermore, it is estimated that the amount of garbage produced in low-income nations will have tripled by 2050. It is obvious that in order to ensure that emerging countries do not fall behind, recycling as a global endeavor would require innovative solutions.
Innovations and the future of recycling
Even if a lot of what you’ve read seems like a huge challenge for the environment, the scientific community is working hard to develop better answers to the trash and recycling issues we face with the help of international humanitarian organizations and some big companies.
A French company called Carbios is one of several startups creating substitutes for traditional recycling. They are contesting the notion that recycling plastics may effectively lessen its negative effects on the environment.
According to Alain Marty, their chief scientific officer, “you have exactly the same quantity of plastic waste at the end.” He is saying that no matter how often we recycle and reuse plastic, there will come a point at which it can no longer be used, and it will need to be burned, whether that happens in a year, five years, or a hundred years.
Rather, Carbios and other startups are creating a process known as de-polymerization for chemical recycling. In essence, they are generating whole new material at the molecular level by employing enzymes to convert the polymers in plastics into monomers. According to the hypothesis, plastic bottles, cups, packaging, and other items could be reused indefinitely without compromising.
In the meantime, the World Economic Forum, the ILO, and other allies are advocating for a “global reboot” on e-waste, which has the potential to turn a massive issue into a safe, healthy, circular recycling sector that employs millions of people in developing nations.
It’s evident that recycling is taking off and will remain a popular practice. There are countless opportunities to learn, advance your career in sustainability, and combat climate change thanks to new ideas, investments, and techniques. the kind of work that benefits all living things on the globe and honors intellectual curiosity.