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Why Are Companies Not Recycling?

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A staggering 71% of global emissions have been attributed to just 100 companies. Given the huge role that business has played in creating the climate crisis, you might expect recycling to be at the top of the average company’s agenda. However, as recently as 2018, 90% of companies in countries like the U.K. were reluctantly admitting that they had absolutely no recycling policies in place. 

This should be of huge concern to the average citizen. It’s understandable to feel a sense of futility about your own attempts to reduce, reuse and recycle when some of the worst polluters on earth are stubbornly refusing to take any meaningful action. Perhaps the growth of ethical consumerism could force companies to finally commit to recycling… 

Here, we examine some of the factors that could be holding companies back. These certainly aren’t excuses, though! Surely we can all agree that it’s way past time for the business world to increase its environmental efforts

Reasons companies may not recycle 

  • It costs money. 
    When you run a business, you have to pay close attention to the bottom line. During COVID-19, many businesses faced significant economic challenges, so investing in recycling may have been the last thing on their agenda. 
    However, this isn’t a problem that can be deprioritized forever. If we want to slow the acceleration of the climate crisis, companies have to urgently consider the planet alongside their profit margin
    There are also ways to mitigate the expense of recycling. Some countries have government schemes and grants which support investment in recycling infrastructure. For example, in Ohio, U.S.A., there is the Community and Litter Grant. Businesses can access this to establish and implement recycling programs. 
  • It’s inconvenient.  

    It’s common for companies to strive towards efficiency. Unfortunately, their definition of efficiency is often whatever is quickest and easiest rather than what makes the best overall use of resources. The extra effort required to recycle is seen as unnecessary through this lens. 

    For some companies, it really is difficult to recycle. Different locations around the world offer varying levels of environmental infrastructure. Depending on where a business is based, it may be logistically complex to access recycling facilities.  

    Even companies who do find recycling services to collect their waste may find that it ends up in a landfill. Recycling companies who can’t find anywhere to accept the waste have little option but to dump it. 
  • It requires a culture change. 
    Companies compete with one another, and many seem to have an attitude of “we won’t recycle until they do.” They may be worried that investing in recycling efforts will put them at an economic disadvantage compared to their rivals. You can see how this approach could indefinitely postpone any action being taken in an industry

    There is another concern regarding the promotion of culture change within an organization. When a company decides to sincerely commit to an environmentally conscious approach, this requires a time investment, too; staff members at all levels need to be engaged and involved for measures to be effective. Leaders could feel reluctant to take on this project. 
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  • It’s easy to avoid accountability. 
    Although many governments have implemented policies that incentivize recycling and punish wasteful behavior, these aren’t always stringently enforced. Companies could find it easy to get away with not recycling, depending on where they’re located. 
    This behavior isn’t just illegal; it’s also immoral. One particularly egregious example of loophole-seeking when it comes to the environment is when multinational companies take advantage of developing countries and their relatively slack legislation to dump their plastic waste abroad. 
    These companies may even be so bold as to still claim environmental awareness in front of their consumer base in developed countries. This phenomenon is referred to as “greenwashing.” 
    Global Citizen defines greenwashing as “when companies and organizations mislead their consumers or audiences by making them believe that a product, service they provide, or the organization itself is environmentally friendly or sustainable when it is not.” 

Advantages for companies that do recycle

Despite the challenges, companies that recycle enjoy significant advantages. Most obviously, they can feel comfortable that they’re doing their part to protect the environment. Looking after the planet that we all live on should be its own inherent motivation.  

More cynically, they also avoid the guilt of other companies. Any business that doesn’t recycle has to hide its negligence and worry that customers will someday discover their wastefulness. 
This is an increasingly relevant concern as audiences are developing greater environmental awareness. As a result, they’re pursuing more ethical consumption habits. There has been a noticeable trend towards favoring businesses that embody socially responsible values, so companies should fear exposure if they’re not living up to expectations. It could have a knock-on effect on their sales and their reputation. 

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In contrast, companies that are doing the most they can to recycle can share this information in their promotional materials. It has the potential to attract new clients who are impressed by their commitment and want to support sustainable businesses. 

Most governments already have some legislation regulating businesses and their environmental impact. As the situation worsens with regards to climate change, we can expect this regulation to become stronger and more strictly enforced.  

Businesses can get ahead of these inevitable developments by beginning to recycle independently. This way, they will avoid being obliged to implement recycling infrastructure on pain of penalties at a later date. 

As citizens, we might feel frustrated by businesses that only seem to care about money. However, we can also use this as an incentive to advocate for recycling. After all, there are many financially strategic ways that companies can recycle, thereby avoiding waste and making more cost-effective use of their resources. The upfront investment required to recycle could soon pay for itself and go on to generate even more profit. 

Sadly, recycling is still considered optional by many companies around the world. If a company wants to excuse its environmental inactivity, there are many reasons they might provide for choosing a more wasteful path. However, they shouldn’t be surprised when an increasingly engaged and conscious consumer base demands more from them than mere excuses.  

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