It is undeniable that business today is seeing the value in resource recovery, providing economic benefits as well as environmental benefits. Whether it is more sustainable manufacturing processes, better energy consumption or greater efforts at minimising waste, Australia has grown from strength to strength.
There is no doubt about it; as a nation, our awareness to the importance of waste management, environmental sustainability and minimising our environmental footprint has progressed in leaps and bounds.
Take for example figures from the Australian Government which show that between 2002/3 and 2006/7 resource recovery increased to 22.7m tonnes. By 2008/9, just 2 years later, NSW alone was recycling 9.5m tones, which speaks to the concerted efforts being made by all to improve consumption and disposal habits.
Fortunately – from our position, we really get a great overview – today, businesses and individuals are both making efforts to improve how we dispose of waste. However, for a long time it was individuals whom were focused on resource recovery, whilst businesses were reluctant to embrace change as they believed that environmentally friendly activities would potentially have adverse affects on their bottom line. Today businesses however, see the value in resource recovery.
Defining resource recovery
So what is resource recovery? In the purest sense it is defined as reuse, recycling, reprocessing and energy recovery, consistent with the most efficient use of the recovered resources.
The social drive behind environmental sustainability in business
Initially, many businesses resisted the ‘environmental movement’. However, the growing cries of the general public meant that resistance for too long was going to be detrimental. The voice of thousands of conservationists could not be ignored, especially when they started to identify specific businesses which were not doing their part for the environment. Failure to heed the call often resulted in negative media coverage and thus, dampened financial results.
At first, many businesses responded with new accounting practices (the triple bottom line). It was through this that they soon realised that there was not only good social justification (and yes incentive to not lose money) but, there was growing evidence that by being environmentally friendly (minimising waste, recycling more or being more energy efficient) often improved business profits.
The financial advantages of resource recovery
In the first instance, businesses involved in say, manufacturing, noted that being more energy efficient and/or improving production methodologies, led to significant savings without sacrifices to the end product. Similarly, white collar industries noted that cutting down on the amount of paper (wastefully) used or by switching off the air conditioning and lights at night saved significant money and thus created healthier profit margins.
However, with time, businesses realised – especially those involved in manufacturing, construction and other heavy industry – that resource recovery could lead to significant financial benefits, and it was this realisation that kick started the growth in more sustainable business practice.
A few key financial reasons for resource recovery include:
- For construction industries, recovering and selling waste metals from old developments including reinforcing, windows and even electrical cabling can offset the costs of construction
- Since 2006/7 the construction industry has recorded the greatest increase in recycling tonnage
- For professional industries, the reuse of scrap paper for draft printing, or note taking can save hundreds or thousands of dollars a year
- Incorrect disposal of materials can attract fines from the EPA which range into the tens of thousands of dollars
- Societal pressure. Failure to adhere to societal norms can cause buyer backlash
- Businesses which offer resource recovery services (such as plastic bag recycling offered by some large supermarket chains) may attract a wider variety of new customers
The environmental benefits of resource recovery
As detailed above, resource recovery has stemmed from early public efforts to recycle more and minimise our environmental footprint. Indeed, resource recovery has numerous advantages for the environment and thus society as a whole. These include:
- Less waste being sent to landfill and thus less prevalence of toxic chemicals leaching into the soil and water table
- Landfills are consumed at a slower rate, thus causing less impact on the environment and less destruction of flora and fauna
- Greater recycling leads to less natural resource consumption
- Recycling certain materials often saves energy over creating those same items from raw materials
The financial and environmental benefits of resource recovery could literally run for pages. However, we’d love to hear from you about the advantages you see, and why your business is actively engaged in resource recovery.