Approximately 1.6 million people worldwide are active in the recycling industry. Together, they handle more than 600 million tonnes of recyclables every year. With an annual turnover of more than $200 billion, similar to the GDP of countries such as Portugal, Colombia and Malaysia, the sector has already become a key driver for tomorrow’s sustainable development. About 10% of this amount is spent on new technologies, research and development that contribute to creating high-skilled jobs and making recycling more efficient and environmentally sound.
The recycling industry has become an integral part of modern society not only due to its social and economic impact but also because it plays a vital role for the future of our planet. The use of recycled materials directly translates into fewer natural resources being used and considerably less energy being consumed when compared to production processes using virgin materials.
Source: BIR Study on the Environmental Benefits of Recycling, 2009
In recent years, many developed and developing countries have introduced specific recycling and environmental performance targets aimed at encouraging people to recycle. The industrial demand for recycled commodities is truly global. International trade in recycled materials plays a pivotal role in supplying the world’s mills and factories and is instrumental in increasing the benefits offered by the industry. BIR has always advocated the free flow of recycled materials and actively monitors potential threats posed by trade restrictions and other protectionist measures.
Recycled Materials are Not Waste
Attempts by some legislators to categorise and regulate recyclables as ‘waste’ have been particularly detrimental for the international recycling industry. BIR and its member associations campaign extensively before the UN, OECD and other supranational bodies to remove the ‘waste’ label from the products generated by the recycling industry.
Design to Recycle
The high level of complexity achieved in product design incorporates a wide array of materials and components, which increases the cost of recycling. In certain cases, it makes recycling almost impossible and commercially non-viable. The recycling industry is working on new solutions to tackle design complexity and BIR consistently campaigns for recycling to be taken into consideration at the earliest stages of product development.
Changing Consumers’ Perceptions
Many consumers are still reluctant to buy certain items containing recycled materials. However, goods manufactured with recycled materials have to meet the same quality standards as those produced using virgin materials. BIR members contribute to providing accurate information on the optimal reliability and performance of recycled materials.