Waste management sees rapid sector changes; underlines need for new technologies

Waste management is a core public service in any country, and as new challenges meet perennially growing demand, it’s becoming clear that new solutions and approaches are needed to contain our global issue with waste. 

Market overview – What can we expect from the waste management market this decade?

While recycling and sustainability efforts – backed up by increasingly stringent regulatory measures both internationally and for individual countries – are making an impact on the overall wastefulness of society, the rapid rate of urbanisation and overall economic growth of low-to-middle income countries means that worldwide rates of consumption and waste production continue to rise.

By 2026, the global industrial solid waste management market is expected to exceed an annual capacity of 28 billion tonnes, with municipal solid waste (MSW) representing 2 billion tonnes of that total. With the Middle East and Asia Pacific regions fuelling much of this growth through urbanisation, increasing residential waste and specifically the surging demand for plastics will drive the growth of smarter waste management solutions, since the predominant methods of burning and open dumping/landfilling of waste in those regions are practices that respective governments desperately want to phase out, turning instead to advanced recycling and circular economy solutions.

The Middle East specifically continues to grapple with its waste management challenges as the new decade unfolds. The average person in the UAE generates around 2.7 kg of waste every day – among the highest per capita rates in the world – and the ME region’s overall urban waste generation rate is more than 150 million tonnes annually. Still, with ambitious targets set by leading ME nations such as reaching 100% diversion from landfill and boosting large-scale waste-to-energy projects, the appetite and impetus for smarter waste management is clearly growing in the Middle East. This is a trend mirrored globally, as the global smart waste management market is predicted to grow by $2.63 billion over the next four years, which represents a substantial 10% CAGR for the period.

Uncertainty leads to waste management challenges

Already, the 2020s are being described as a decade where uncertainty will remain a prominent and persistent factor. Growing uncertainty in the global political landscape, coupled with fluctuating economic growth due to events impacting our highly interconnected world, means that managing waste will continue to be an even more challenging business with greater logistical complexities and headaches. Factors complicating the issue of waste management so far this year include:

Stockpiling: Events that trigger public restrictions inevitably lead to varying levels of ‘panic buying’ and stockpiling of food and essentials. Not only does this drive greater unpredictability in terms of consumer demand, it also leads to increases in the generation of wasted food and other perishables. To take the UK as an example, a report showed that consumers spent an extra £1.9 billion on groceries during the four weeks up to 21st March compared with 2019, which then led to millions of tonnes of additional waste generated for that period.

Fluctuating consumer market demand: For economies across the world, dramatic unemployment spikes and overall uncertainty over the speed of the recovery process means that the production of waste is becoming more difficult to anticipate and track, as consumers deviate from their normal buying habits. Many are consuming less as they tighten their household budgets, whereas others are producing more waste as they rely more heavily on deliveries, single-use plastics and other wasteful consumer habits.

Lack of access to public waste management facilities: Closure of public dumps, recycling centres and other waste management facilities for health-related reasons continues to encourage people with no access to other solutions to burn or dump their waste, creating dangerous toxic emissions and other public health hazards.

Types of waste that are growing demand for smarter services

Medical waste: Ramping up of PPE (Personal Protective Equipment) production, as well as the generation of waste contaminated by afflicted persons, means that medical waste is a growth industry that requires solutions offering sophistication as well as scale. The global medical waste management market size is projected to reach $9 billion by 2025 from its current valuation of around $6.8 billion.

Plastic waste: From increases in takeaway food orders, use of bottled water and hand sanitiser, to the reversing of plastic bag bans and other efforts to reduce single-use plastics consumption, plastic waste is another critical growth area primed for circular economy intervention.

Recyclables and bio-waste: In response to consumer demand for more environmentally sustainable alternatives to single-use plastic, the growth of recyclable packaging and other materials used in consumer goods is concurrently on the rise, along with the need to manage bio-waste volumes as greater awareness about the benefits of composting and otherwise recycling organic matter. From more advanced recycling plants with more specialisms, to biofuel production facilities and smart agriculture solutions, both consumers and governments are demanding that we find more ways to put more of our waste to better use.

Examples of smart waste management solutions in demand

Reusable medical waste containers: The increasing financial and environmental cost of single-use medical waste containers means that more sustainable options are sorely needed. Currently, over 30% of globally produced medical waste is made up of conventional medical waste containers. Reusable containers, when combined with automated decontaminating systems and on-premise disposal facilities, are the preferred long-term solution for hospitals and health facilities with the budgets to secure them.

Data analytics: Accurate data analysis remains at the heart of figuring out the most effective methods for collecting, transporting, organising and disposing/recycling our waste. Data analytics have been marked as a key driver of the smart waste management market for the coming decade. Solutions ranging from sensors inside bins, to IoT-enabled waste collection trucks and management facilities will allow for all manner of improvements of the waste management ecosystem, such as optimised collection routes, more efficient sorting methods, and boosted public awareness. This methodology can be applied at the company, industry or even national level – Denmark is currently examining ways to make Big Data an integral part of its nationwide plan to reach a 50% household recycling rate for seven waste types by the year 2022.

Waste-to-energy facilities: Building our capacity for disposing of non-recyclable waste in a safe and sustainable manner is essential for the future health of individual countries and the global environment. At the same time, demand for energy is rising in step with produced waste, making waste-to-energy facilities an obvious and neat solution for both problems. Both of these issues are particularly acute in the Middle East, which at least partly explains the growing enthusiasm for building WtE facilities in the region. Barely a few months ago we saw Abu Dhabi Power Corporation (AD Power), EWEC and Tadweer agree to commission a new plant in the Industrial City of Abu Dhabi in the Mussafah region. With a processing capacity of 900,000 tonnes of waste per year and predicted energy output of 90MW, this will be the world’s largest waste-to-energy facility. 

Innovation and integration of new methods will lead the way on the world’s waste management development

Waste volumes remain on the rise despite the uncertainty attached to global events in recent months, tied as they are to growing population and urbanisation rates. Accordingly, it seems likely that smarter waste management solutions will also grow rapidly in demand and sophistication, as a greater commitment to innovation and the circular economy presents a viable path towards sustainability in this critical market.