Editorial 27.8.2019

Is waste a valuable raw material?

Juha-Heikki Tanskanen
Juha-Heikki Tanskanen

Regrettably often – and almost always in the case of household waste – the answer to this question is no.

If you read online stories or newspapers, you may think that the owner of a bin is in for big money, as the headlines claim that waste is now valuable raw material, and one man’s trash is another man’s treasure. In practice, nobody pays for your waste, which is not even collected for free.

Statutory recycling obligations and financial control instruments, such as the landfill tax, have made the sorting and recycling of waste a profitable business for companies in the industry.

This business, like any other service business, is paid for by the purchaser of a recycling service, i.e. the owner of the waste. Recycling is financially viable when someone pays for the transportation, treatment and, regrettably often, use of the waste material as a raw material.

The low or even negative value of sorted waste materials is a major challenge for the development of circular economy. For this reason, we are only in the early stages of closing the material loops.

Completely closing the loops, however, is not always good for the environment. It is advisable to remove harmful substances from the cycle, and recycling should not be encouraged once the emission balance becomes negative and it is harmful for the environment. Identifying the level of sustainable recycling is one of the challenges of our new circular economy.