The recycling industry has seen a profitable resurgence within the past few years. In 2013 the industry was beginning to look bleak as companies, such as Waste Management, were pulling funds from recycling programs because profit margins were extremely small. What was once called the “New Green Business Frontier” by Harvard Business Review quickly dried up. The introduction of single stream recycling wreaked havoc on the number one recycling industry—waste paper recycling—as well as aluminum can and plastic recycling. So why are green businesses beginning to see themselves thriving again? The answer is simple—adaptation. This adaptation has been made both by the recyclers working as B2B suppliers for green businesses, companies finding ways to directly sell recycled products to consumers, and the rising industry of remanufacturing.
The Upgraded B2B: Involving Consumers
What has significantly helped this industry is putting the power into the hands of the recyclers. Here in Brooklyn, one company, FabScrap have reclaimed ownership of finding ways to recycle used goods. The company receives fabric scraps (or textile waste) that would have otherwise been tossed and then organizes and cuts the fabric so that they are able to sell the new scraps in their thrift shop directly to consumers. The program works well since the basis of their sorters are volunteers and they get a large amount of foot traffic from designers and students alike. The company also has an online website which means they are able to directly sell their products to consumers instead of having to work solely with the niche market of companies that would wish to repurpose fabric. Companies are becoming increasingly aware of the ways in which they can be proactive and competitive. Recycling is green every way you look at it. It not only is significantly better for the planet, but it makes economic sense for large businesses looking to create new products. Traditionally, the basis of green business for the recyclers relied on the demand from their buyers. Recyclers would break down matter into resources that could be used again, such as plastic pellets, which companies would then purchase and use for their products. However, as demand began to decrease while the amount of material needing to be recycled increased companies found themselves at a loss and profits plummeted.
Remanufacturing as a Whole
Remanufacturing is rebuilding a product to the specifications of the original manufactured product by using reused, repaired and new parts. This has had a profound impact on the recycling industry and the planet. It’s similar to the way in which a person may go to get a car repaired—just because that car may need to be slightly restored doesn’t mean that it is ready to be trashed.
Remanufacturing takes place across a large sector of industries and some commonly remanufactured products include aircraft components, automotive parts, electronic equipment, medical equipment, office furniture, and printing equipment. The remanufacturing industry is essential for the circular economy (pictured below), which would essentially eliminate most waste from the manufacturing process. A large part of what makes remanufacturing functional is the collection process from everyday consumers. One example of this is how Cartridge Evolution collects ink cartridges through local drop off points.
Similarly to the ways recyclers are involving consumers, remanufacturing keeps the consumer in mind. For one, products price points are often cheaper than their competitors because the remanufacturer does not have to spend as much money on new materials. The products are also able to be sold immediately after production since the remanufacturer takes care of product distribution directly to other businesses or customers. Customers are a key aspect of remanufacturing as having a solid consumer basis have allowed remanufacturers to rely less on the demands of a few businesses and instead gain control on their own market share. The recycling industry is continuing to prove vital to our steps towards a more conscious and sustainable way of creating new products while caring for keeping in mind the impact they’ll have for years to come.