What does “recycling” actually mean? The Ellen Macarthur Foundation defines material recycling as “reprocessing, by means of a manufacturing process, of a used packaging material into a product, a component incorporated into a product, or a secondary (recycled) raw material; excluding energy recovery and the use of the product as a fuel.”
However, what makes something “unrecyclable” is not the opposite of this. It simply comes down to an equation of whether traditional recyclers can earn enough revenue to cover the costs and, as a result, earn a profit.
If the costs of logistics (collection, transport, handling, and storage) and processing (cleaning, shredding, and material conversion) are less than the value of the recycled material, then that item is deemed to be practically recyclable. This is the case with most of the packaging you can put in your municipal (or curbside) recycling.
On the flipside, if it costs more to recycle than what the processed materials will sell for, then most waste management companies won’t accept it. It’s not that it can’t be recycled; it simply isn’t profitable for them to do so.
We can recycle the unrecyclable because we work with brands, retailers, and other stakeholders who are willing to fund the process of recycling hard-to-recycle items. We consider this “voluntary extended producer responsibility.”
This funding allows our research & development (R&D) team to find ways to recycle hundreds of complex waste streams by developing new processes and formulations and consulting with recyclers to fine-tune the process. To give us flexibility, we do not own our own processing facilities because these investments could quickly become out-of-date given the consistent rate at which we come up with new ways to recycle. Instead, our R&D team performs tests to analyze material composition then identifies existing processes and technologies that can be linked together in an innovative way.
Then, our Materials Solutions team finds the right recyclers to work with to process the material and ultimately find applications for the recycled material.
We collect and recycle hundreds of different waste streams across 21 countries, which results in a complex supply chain. We guarantee that all the accepted waste collected through our programs is recycled. Our clients are offered Certificates of Recycling, and our contracted partners are free to audit our supply chains either directly or via independent third parties, which we encourage.