Twenty Waste, Recycling, and Circular Economy Predictions for 2020

With a new decade almost upon us, it is time to once again check in with our leaders and subject matter experts at Rubicon to gauge their predictions for the year ahead when it comes to the world of waste, recycling, and the circular economy.

At Rubicon, our technology is transforming the entire category of waste and recycling by driving environmental innovation and helping to turn businesses into more sustainable enterprises, and neighborhoods into greener and smarter places to live and work. As a Certified B Corporation, it is affirmed that Rubicon meets the highest standards of verified social and environmental performance—a fact of which we couldn’t be more proud.

I recently sat down with 20 leaders from across Rubicon to ask them for their predictions for the year ahead.

Here is what they had to say:


Big data will continue to inform city officials about revenue opportunities

“The potential of big data has never been stronger. When it comes to the world of waste and recycling, government fleet vehicles, including the humble garbage truck, have the potential to serve as roaming data collection centers that can collect extremely large volumes of data on everything from cracks in the road, crumbling sidewalks, snow buildup, graffiti, and illegal dumping, to name but a few. In 2020, I predict that more and more cities will work to leverage this data in new and exciting ways, from using it to implement much-needed safety improvements, to helping to develop new revenue opportunities.”

—Phil Rodoni, Chief Technology Officer


More businesses and governments will look to technology solutions

“As consumers, taxpayers, investors, and the media all increase their focus on moving us towards a more circular economy, based on the premise of maximizing our finite resources, we will see more and more businesses and governments look to technology solutions to help accelerate that change. The winners in this race will be those technology providers that strike the right balance between driving environmental gains while keeping an eye trained on delivering return on investment.”

—Michael Allegretti, Chief Strategy Officer


Consumers and business will be leaders in demanding the circular economy

“It is clear that public opinion has shifted toward favoring the purchasing of goods that don’t contribute to the global waste crisis. Instead, consumers want to promote a more sustainable and circular economy that reduces rampant waste generation. In 2020, I predict that consumers and businesses will continue to be leaders in demanding a shift away from the ‘take, make, waste’ model of production and consumption to a more circular way of thinking that values materials at all stages of their lifecycle.”

—David Rachelson, Vice President of Sustainability


Investors will be drawn to companies with a track record of ESG achievements

“Investors are moving away from companies that provide only minimal data and transparency around environmental, social, and governance (ESG) factors. In 2020, the investor community will be drawn towards those companies with a steady track record of demonstrating achievements and articulating goals, alongside a workable plan of how to get there.”

—Elizabeth Montoya, Vice President of Investor Relations


Cities will recognize that they can do more with less

“More and more cities are waking up to the idea that they can become ‘smarter’ by doing more with less. Technology allows cities to get more out of city assets, including buildings, infrastructure, and vehicles, rather than investing millions of dollars into new resources. In 2020, the technology success that cities like Montgomery, AL; Spokane, WA; and Santa Fe, NM have had will spread to more cities, as more and more city governments recognize the power of technology to help them deliver high-quality services to citizens more efficiently.”

—Conor Riffle, Vice President of Smart Cities


Haulers will look to improve on recycling education

“In 2020, haulers will be looking at technology to increase the use of data analytics to aid in improving efficiencies. Controlling costs and improving communication with clients through smart technology will lead to overall increased customer satisfaction and margin improvement. Haulers will also be focusing on improved recycling. With stringent regulations in place, haulers will be looking to improve education on proper recycling with clients, streamlining processes and operations to provide a clean recycling stream to the end market, and developing circular solutions to limit the reliance on foreign markets.”

—Lori Sullivan, Vice President of Hauler Operations


Global opportunities to solve waste challenges will continue

“The potential to solve global waste challenges using technology has never been greater. I predict that in 2020, we will see a significant increase in the use of artificial intelligence (AI), image recognition in particular, from companies and governments looking for a way to develop sustainable ecosystems to forge cleaner, greener, and more sustainable waste and recycling solutions.”

—Renaud de Viel Castel, Senior Vice President of Global Expansion


Companies will recognize the importance of putting sustainable thinking first

“In 2020, companies of all sizes will continue to recognize the importance of putting sustainable thinking first, not just for the environmental benefits this brings, but also due to an increased interest from consumers in environmentally friendly products and services. More regulations and a desire to hit environmental, social, and governance (ESG) targets will no doubt be used to hurry these changes along, but ultimately the desire to change must come from the top-down within an organization.”

—Marco Hilty, Chief Commercial Officer


Electronic waste recycling will become more convenient

“Electronic waste (e-waste) is all around us. Most businesses are full of electronic items that they no longer use, and while most curbside recycling programs don’t currently accept e-waste, markets for the safe disposal of e-waste do exist. In 2020, I predict that e-waste recycling will become more convenient for businesses and individuals alike, as organizations and municipalities realize that if they want to hit their sustainability goals, safe and secure e-waste collection and recycling has to be a part of their plans.”

—Meredith Leahy, Waste Diversion Manager


Zero waste and organics recycling programs will increase in number

“It has been a watershed year for awareness around organics diversion. In 2020, I predict that the number of zero waste and organics recycling programs will continue to increase as more regulations will push generators to recycle more of their food waste, wood waste, and other organics, and persuade processors to develop more infrastructure. We will see more depackaging capability coming online that will feed into composting facilities, stand-alone merchant anaerobic digesters, as well as municipal anaerobic digestion at water resource recovery facilities. At the same time, interest in dehydration is increasing, which can reduce the weight and volume of food waste by up to 90%, stabilize the material, and reduce the potential for odor and vectors.”

—Ryan Cooper, Waste Diversion Manager and the Organics Recycling Lead


The value of recycled materials containing gold and silver will remain steady

“Commodity metal recycling is a high-value sector within the waste and recycling industry. While commodity values fluctuate on a daily basis, precious non-ferrous metals such as gold and silver tend to remain stable, and sometimes even increase in value, during times of turbulence. In 2020, I predict that with the copper-to-gold ratio at a three-year high, the value of recycled materials containing gold and silver will remain steady or potentially increase as the demand for these precious metals remains strong.”

—Jackie Beason, Director of Commodity Sales


Strides in the construction and demolition recycling industry are set to continue

“In 2020, the strides that the construction and demolition (C&D) industry have made over recent years will continue. Technology will be at the forefront of construction and projects managers’ minds where it comes to the measurement of C&D recycling, but more importantly, the c-suite will understand the value of mandating strategies and processes to produce better environmental results. Achieving accurate C&D waste diversion results is easier said than done, which is why at Rubicon we utilize smart technology to give companies an accurate profile of the materials being diverted from landfills. Accurate measurement allows for the truth to be transparent to all, but also allows companies to measure progress.”

—Marc Spiegel, Co-Founder and Head of Construction & Project Solutions


More people will move toward careers that drive environmental innovation

“In 2020, we will see an uptick in the number of job-seekers looking for careers with companies that are driving environmental innovation by working to help turn businesses into more sustainable enterprises, and neighborhoods into greener and smarter places to live and work. The employees of today want to work for a company that is making a positive difference in the world, and to that end, I am extremely excited about what the new year has to offer.”

—Michael Heller, Chief Administrative & People Officer


Having accurate and reliable data will be a key differentiator

“Next year, we will see businesses switch their key focus from cost to sustainability and diversion efforts. Having accurate and reliable data will be a key differentiator for organizations looking to report on these efforts. These organizations will be looking for a partner who can provide them with a roadmap to help them reach these goals, while also recognizing that cost containment must be seen as a continuing factor in these efforts.”

—Jamie Delli Santi, Strategic Account Executive


Large landfill-based waste companies will push for higher prices

“Here is a little-known fact about the waste industry. The world’s first landfill on record goes all the way back to 3000 BCE. Just think about that for a moment; there are waste management companies operating in the United States today using a business model that is over 5,000 years old. These companies talk the talk about recycling and sustainability, but in reality, they own the same landfills in which they claim they are diverting waste away from. In 2020, I predict that businesses and individuals alike will start to see through this outdated business model and recognize that if they want to ensure that their recyclables are actually being recycled, they need to look elsewhere.”

—Perry Moss, Co-Founder, Chief Advisor


Improved customer service will come from continuous technological investment

“Whether your business is on Wall Street or Main Street, many of the challenges that business owners face with regard to their waste and recycling can be alleviated if they switch to a sustainability partner that focuses on developing their technology platforms to ensure a more streamlined experience for their customers. In 2020, I predict that as technological capabilities continue to improve, businesses will flock to partners who recognize that an improved customer service experience comes through continuous investment in these areas.”

—Barbara Mislan, Customer Success Manager


Legislators will strive to create circular economies

“Last year, city and state legislators introduced policies aiming both to decrease material going to landfill and reduce contaminated material in recycling streams. Most often, these efforts came in the form of legislation eliminating single-use plastic bags at retail locations. These “plastic-bag-bans” reflect increasing recognition of the damage plastic, and more specifically, plastic bags are doing to our environment and recycling efforts. In 2020, legislators will continue introducing legislation to eliminate single-use plastics at retail locations. Additionally, in response to the ever-shrinking available space in landfills, legislators will introduce policies mandating organic recycling, both in the retail and residential markets. Organics programs will divert waste away from landfills, while at the same time combat climate change and produce new forms of sustainable energy. In 2020, legislators will strive to create circular economies by introducing and advocating for policy that reflects the importance of waste diversion and benefits of large-scale organics programs.”

—Hurst Renner, Manager, Public Policy & Smart City Partnerships


Focus will shift from big data to artificial intelligence

“I predict that 2020 will be the year when we see the focus shift from big data to artificial intelligence (AI) as more and more businesses in the waste and recycling industry, haulers, and cities will start relying on AI-powered technology to tackle day-to-day operations and make important business decisions. From core fleet operations to evaluating environmental conditions, AI will revolutionize how we create value through data.”

—Vighnesh Lall, Director of Data Science


The number of B Corporations will continue to rise

“Rubicon is one of just 3,100 Certified B Corporations worldwide, and we have been since 2012. In 2020, I predict that the number of B Corps across the globe will continue to rise as more and more companies come to the realization that in order to attract the best people, they need to have a mission that focuses not just on corporate profits, but on the environmental impact of their economic activities, and on serving their customers and employees to the highest possible standard.”

—Stacie Moore, Director of Human Resource


The diversion needle will move for all businesses

“Some of our Key Account clients are sustainability-minded and have published sustainability goals. At the other end of the spectrum, some do not even consider diversion when looking at their waste solutions. In 2020, I expect our sustainability-focused clients to continue to push these goals; increasing their diversion percentages, and implementing creative, alternative solutions outside of traditional waste and recycling solutions. I also expect that clients that have no recycling and have always made decisions based on cost to start implementing small changes which will move the diversion needle in the right direction.”

—Jen Clough, Senior Director of Key Accounts


Charles Zinkowski is Director of Communications at Rubicon. To stay ahead of Rubicon’s announcements of new partnerships and collaborations around the world, be sure to follow us on LinkedIn, Facebook, and Twitter, or contact us today.

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