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Leveling Up Your Waste and Recycling for 2024: The Top Trends You Need to Know

Waste Harmonics

The last financial quarter of the year can be quite hectic as you take stock of how you are pacing against yearly goals and other key performance areas of business operations to finish out the year strong. The end of the year can also be a time for reflection as you consider how your business may have confronted new challenges or customer pain points, enhanced processes, or even implemented new strategies that improved the bottom line.

As you ruminate on key success or areas for improvement, equally important in the last quarter is trendspotting for the year ahead. Around this time last year, we discussed a few tips and trends that would help give businesses the chance to re-evaluate their waste management and recycling programs. While many of those tips are just as relevant today, with the new year just around the corner, we have identified a few new key areas and considerations to keep in mind for a successful (and sustainable) 2024.

Trend: Zeroing in on Zero Waste
From a sustainability standpoint, the big picture will focus on emissions reductions and striving for zero waste (e.g., diverting as much waste as you can away from the landfill). Achieving zero waste is a growing concept that has been on many of our customers’ minds throughout the past year, but the key is understanding how to get there and deploying the right methodologies and technologies to minimize waste as efficiently and sustainably as possible.

While there are many layers to this process, your best path forward will be ensuring there is data visibility in place for your waste and recycling programs from the outset. Data transparency will help you make informed decisions about how best to structure, resize, or optimize your services among industry shifts and as your business evolves. Real-time data can help paint a picture of how much waste you are generating today as you build a roadmap for how and when you will meet your zero-waste goals.

Adding monitors equipped with sensors that can measure the fullness of your dumpster or compactor can help you understand your waste tonnages and frequency of pickups. This data may indicate that your waste pickup frequency is too high and presents the opportunity to scale back or switch to an alternative pickup schedule. Considering that the transportation sector accounts for nearly a quarter of greenhouse gas emissions, limiting unnecessary trash pickups reduces the number of trucks on the road, ultimately lessening those harmful emissions. It all comes full circle.

Regardless of the technical resources you put in place to strive for zero waste, you may want to consider working with a seasoned partner or customer service team to serve as your frontline while you strive to get across the zero-waste finish line. That team of tenured professionals works behind the scenes to ensure trash keeps moving day to day, but, more importantly, monitors data closely among all the moving parts of your program to catch potential issues or pinpoint new zero-waste strategies (e.g., flagging that proper materials end up in the right waste or recycling receptacles, finding the best outlet for a specific material, or indicating potential rebates of which you can take advantage).

Trend: New EPR Laws and Regulations Take Center Stage
Extended Producer Responsibility (EPR) laws are picking up steam for producers and manufacturers. While EPR regulations are not commonplace yet in every corner of the U.S., we can expect to see these types of proposals continue to roll out in new markets throughout the year. You will want to be prepared by working with your extended supply chain to ensure any products in production or out in the market have a full lifecycle through recycling without diversion to a landfill. Reducing single-use plastics has been a primary focus for many years that will continue to ladder up to these EPR regulations. However, with new or pending EPR policies on the horizon in the year ahead, other considerations to keep in mind include producing packaging that is easier to reuse or recycle to achieve a circular economy effect while staying EPR compliant.

This past year, we also saw new regulations surrounding the recycling of two common materials: electronic and organic waste. In August, new energy efficiency rules took effect that will restrict the purchase of most incandescent lightbulbs in favor of more energy-efficient and emissions-friendly LED lights. Then, in September, New York City introduced a mandatory composting law that could serve as a model for other cities and metro areas across the country that decide to hop on board. We will continue to see this ripple effect to regulate certain types of waste, including efforts to reduce single-use plastic straws and bags across the retail and hospitality sectors. Our customers in the restaurant and hospitality industry, in particular, are becoming more curious about organics recycling services and options to implement amid increasingly environmentally conscious policies—food waste accounts for the highest percentage of waste that is diverted to most landfills. The key consideration to implementing an organics recycling program is cost, but a managed waste service provider can work with you directly to evaluate your options.

While nearly every state has, to some level, a landfill diversion percentage they want to meet, we are only going to see these types of recycling regulations become stricter, which will challenge us all to identify creative outlets now.

Trend: Going With the Ebb and Flow
Overall, markets will continue to fluctuate in the recycling space, but two areas that are trending upward are recycled fiber and old corrugated containers. New mills and textile recycling facilities continue to come online and are being built, while on the flipside, pallet recycling has experienced a steady decline in the past 12 to 18 months that we may not see trend upward for a while unless data from this year’s holiday season changes that trajectory.

As 2023 comes to a close and we welcome 2024, consider consulting with a professionally managed waste services provider to stay cognizant of these trends and how they may ladder up to your organization’s waste and recycling New Year’s resolutions.

This article was originally published in Waste Advantage Magazine