It's been a crazy week at MeCycle (so far) as we have been hustling to get all the pilot users on the platform. We quickly did a 1-pager to answer some common questions we were getting and we started writing what we called some "crazy facts" at the end, just so our users knew the state of recycling today.
Here's a copy of what came pouring out. Unfiltered, unedited and frankly, writing it made us a bit emotional. A year ago, we had NO IDEA we would get sucked into trying to bring innovation to recycling. But here we are, and with these crazy facts - you can see why.
In case you want to learn why we have become recycling entrepreneurs, here are a few facts we’ve learned over the past few months.
We Need to Stem the Tide
71% of plastic and 54% of aluminum packages end up in landfills or in the ocean (Billions of packages a year).
The US is #3, and the only wealthy country in the top 10 of ocean polluting nations.
We dump the equivalent of 1 dump-truck a minute in our oceans.
It’s About To Get A LOT Worse
Plastics production is expected to increase 3x in the next 20 years as oil companies look to make up lost revenue from clean energy and electric vehicles.
No commercially scaled solution is available for biodegradable packages or chemical recycling. We have to rely on our current recycling technology for a good while.
The Current Industry Is Not Seriously Working Toward Solutions
Waste management companies currently provide most of our recycling services. It represents 1-7% of their business and they make substantially more landfilling than recycling.
We moved to “single stream” recycling about 15 years ago (everything in one bin) which makes it easier for waste haulers (they invented the idea to reduce pick up expenses), but drives far more customer confusion about what can be recycled and creates 2-3x higher levels of contamination.
We had been shipping our recycling to China. It was such bad quality (unsorted and full of contamination - plastic bags, food waste, un-recyclable materials) that they will no longer accept an American recycling import.
Incentives Work But - We Can’t Count On The Reverse Vending Machines
Items that have deposits see 3-4x the recycling rates as items that don’t have deposits. We want MeCycle to be the platform that can offer deposits nationally (we only have 10 states that use them today) on any package that has a strong recycling aftermarket (we’d love to cover berry clamshells for example).
The current return method for deposit items has been crippled by Covid. No one wants to engage with the return machines. The system is also very expensive, which is why the industry lobbies strongly against deposit legislation.
Innovation Might Save Us
A tech enabled solution that can be deployed at scale is our vision for MeCycle. We want to create a new, premium tier of recycling that will ensure that the items that are most harmful to our environment are getting handled properly and not going to landfills/oceans.
So there you have it. A bit of a rant with a whole bunch of hope. That with technology and the consumer in the center of a modern, delightful experience we can save us. We can't keep going on with crazy. We have to move forward. The future depends on what we do today.