Jumping the track

24th July 2015 Posted by

Last month, I had the pleasure of speaking at the FEAD conference in London about innovation in the waste industry. While preparing my presentation, I sought some thoughts and opinions from others in the industry, to see what ‘innovation’ meant to them.

The responses I received ranged from declarations that our industry “doesn’t do innovation”, through to details of university research projects that various organisations were involved in – so a wide and incongruous spectrum.  It’s all very well and good talking about innovation, but the main question I wanted to consider was the type of ‘innovation’ our industry really needs?

In my presentation, I discussed innovation to support the “business-as-usual” curve for our existing businesses or as the catalyst for a new business in our industry.  One could argue that this represents much of the innovation we talk about today, from efficient routing of collection trucks, bin tags, on-board weighing through to gasification or pyrolysis – all provide innovative solutions to current industrial challenges. However, following the presentation I also wanted to explore the idea of innovation across the fundamental waste industry business model.

Again, I sought the opinions from others to mull it over. The findings were unsurprisingly mixed and diverse – ranging from “there will always be waste in bins” to others who heralded the death of the bin man as we know it. This discordance highlights the diverse opinions in the business today and, to some extent, the stress and strain of balancing the needs of the current day-to-day operations with the future needs, opportunities and challenges of the business.

I believe there is a need for our sector to make the jump from one business track, the one focused on the current day-to-day operations and the innovation which supports it, to the other. We need to move from being the “end-of-pipe waste manager” towards becoming industrially embedded resource stewards – returning resources back to manufacturers, finding homes for materials or refurbishing and/or reforming them into new products.

Working as part of the team helping to design products and processes, contributing to whole life costing and helping both ends of the linear economy come together will be an essential component of our work. If we don’t make that jump there is an obvious risk that, when the circle forms, the waste sector will be left out!

Although we are innovating on the current business curve, I believe that the sum of those innovations, if brought together, will be enough to jump us on to the new business line, to move us from the sector at the bottom of the linear economy to one of the key components in forming the circular economy. Jumping those tracks has risks, but the risk of not jumping are far greater.


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