A growing amount of waste — in the form of plastics and electronics — is putting increased pressure on the recycling industry and its supply chains. Despite big initiatives by public and private organizations, recycling rates remain low. This increases the chance that plastics accumulate in the environment.
Public information on recycling is also limited. There is little information for organizations and individuals on the effectiveness of current pushes to improve it.
New technology — like the blockchain, a kind of secure and shared digital ledger — may be able to help.
Companies in a variety of sectors are increasingly interested in how the tech can be used to improve data transparency and build trust between parties. Now, the recycling industry has adopted blockchain in a few different and interesting ways.
- Cross-organization supply chain recycling tracking
One of the most significant benefits the blockchain can offer recycling is data transparency. Multiple parties working together can access the exact same data, even if they're not actively sharing tracking systems or information with each other.
For example, there's RecycleGO, a software-as-a-service provider that offers a blockchain solution for recycling companies and the organizations they work with. In this case, the platform works by tracking recycling activity across a local recycling supply chain on the blockchain. With the solution in place, recyclers can track waste as it moves through the chain, and organizations and municipalities can compare their recycling efforts.
When the blockchain is made publicly available, consumers can also use the ledger's info to make more informed purchasing decisions. For example, they can buy from companies that make recycling a top priority. Logistics companies are also increasingly using verified data reporting to cut down on supply chain emissions. If this kind of data is included in the ledger, it could provide customers even more information on which businesses are taking environmental stewardship seriously.
- Tracking individual plastic items across their lifecycles
The blockchain could also be used to track individual items through the recycling supply chain — which could result in more sustainable plastics.
If you can tell how long a piece of plastic has spent in circulation, you could conceivably create incentives that reward manufacturers for designing easy-to-reuse or recycle plastics.
This is the aim of a new project, called reciChain, from BASF, a multinational German chemical company and the largest such producer in the world. The project takes advantage of physical markers on plastic products to create a timeline or map of each item as it moves through the supply chain, using blockchain technology.
With the data produced by the project, it may be significantly easier for manufacturers and recyclers to know which products are most likely to be picked up by recyclers. They can also determine what's likely to fall out of the recycling supply chain. Because reuse and recycling of products is so essential to the creation of green supply chains, this data will be invaluable for businesses that make eco-friendliness a top priority.
Combined with data from other new technology in the supply chain, like the trend toward increased use of digital freight brokerage, this individual product tracking could help provide sustainability minded organizations with the best possible information on which businesses to work with.
- Providing better recycling incentives for consumers
All these solutions, however, may not help one of the most significant issues for the global recycling supply chain. That's the existence of accumulated plastic in places like the oceans and the Amazon rainforest.
Multinational tech giant IBM is working on a potential blockchain-based solution to this problem, in the form of one of the company's newest projects, the Plastic Bank. According to IBM, the majority of the ocean's plastics come from countries outside the developed world with inefficient recycling systems.
The Plastic Bank works to solve this problem by creating recycling supply chains in which members receive a premium for the material they collect, more effectively incentivizing the gathering and recycling of plastic that might otherwise escape recyclers.
How supply chain blockchain may transform recycling
The recycling industry is under immense pressure in the form of a growing production of recyclable products and limited consumer buy-in. New strategies, powered by blockchain technology, may help the industry.
These blockchain-powered projects, which provide better information and incentives across the supply chain, may soon transform how recyclers approach their work.