Zero-waste trend: How recycling may benefit the Ukrainian economy
CEO of Recycling Solutions Dmytro Anufriev talks about which industrial waste can be salvaged and how its recycling may help the Ukrainian economy.
In recent years, the sustainable business grew from a trend to a fundamental concept employed by the most progressive companies out there. In this paradigm, industrial waste may become a valuable resource and bring profit.
Ukraine has plenty of raw materials, but its economy is linear. As a result, massive amounts of industrial waste have been accumulated in the country. According to the State Statistics Services of Ukraine, 352 million tonnes of waste was generated in Ukraine in 2018, industrial waste accounting for 97% of the total and the remaining 3% being domestic waste. Only a third of that is recycled. Nowadays, some landfills hold as much as 13–14 billion tonnes of waste. It’s an enormous resource reserve.
Money on the ground
Waste is simply resources piled up in places where they cannot be recycled. Under certain conditions, they can be returned into the production cycle. If we don’t do this and instead stick to the linear economy of ‘take-make-use-dispose’, we will destroy the environment and speed up the rise in prices for primary resources in the long run. This will diminish the availability of raw materials and, consequently, slow down global economic development. The environmental ramifications of this approach are already apparent, and they will aggravate soon.
Developed countries saw the need for waste recycling a long time ago. According to expert estimates, the global market for industrial waste recycling reached $1.3 trillion in 2018, and by 2025 it will grow to $2.5 trillion, with the annual gains exceeding 10%. About 36% of Ukrainian non-recycled waste can be recycled or reused, the most promising being that generated by the mining, industrial, agricultural, and energy industries.
Expertise and capacity
Multiple factors restrain the development of circular economy in Ukraine. However, primarily, it’s the lack of relevant legislation and support from investors willing to pour money into waste recycling projects. As a result, there are not that many domestic companies that do integrated industrial waste management in our country.
Recycling Solutions was established in 2012 to carry out a pilot project to study the use of ash microspheres, a by-product of coal combustion in thermal power plants, in the oil & gas and chemical industries as well as in the refractory material production. Now, it helps over 20 companies make money on waste. The company recycles 2.2 million tonnes of Ukrainian industrial waste annually, selling it to 22 countries.
Our company has studied all strategic pathways, investing over $15 million over 8 years to create facilities for recycling of thermal energy generation, metallurgy, and coke production waste.
For many years, Ukraine had been exporting ammonium sulphate (a coke industry by-product that can be used as a raw material for potent mineral fertilizers) for processing to Turkey, Bulgaria, and Serbia and re-imported a part of it as fertilizers to satisfy farmers’ needs. And then Recycling Solutions set up a granulation plant in Kryvyi Rih to process it domestically into the ready-to-use ammonium sulphate granules. The plant not only supports the circular economy, enabling the recycling of the by-products of coke plants’ primary industrial process but also reduces the cost of their transportation.
The agricultural sector opens a host of promising opportunities, too. This year, we joined a unique project—construction of the high-protein feed additives and animal fats plant in Lviv Region. It will become the first independent operator in Ukraine that processes externally-sourced raw materials to make high-protein feed additives and animal fats for cattle and pets.
Biomass and biogas open other promising opportunities. According to the Energy Strategy of Ukraine, the energy generated from biomass will account for 11.5% of the country’s total by 2035. Presently though, the share of biomass in the overall generation is at 1.78%, which is indicative of the vast gap, which may be exploited by the companies interested in sustainable development.
Industrial waste and by-products should become the raw materials for other industries. As a result, not only the anthropogenic pressure on the environment will decrease, but also the efficiency of natural resource utilization will rise. If a business disregards the urgency of shifting to a circular economy, it loses investor goodwill and competitiveness.
Whether we can capitalize on the opportunities in waste and by-product recycling depends on a number of factors: understanding of prospects of the end-product market; selection of reliable raw material suppliers (preferably multiple ones, not to become overly dependent on one operator); and the existence of a community supporting such efforts.
Once you have them, it comes down to pure experimentation. Many companies are reluctant to launch large-scale initiatives without ‘field trials’, so pilot projects are worth consideration as well as trial and tolling production, which implies small-scale production (100 to 2,000 tonnes) to check its compliance with the applicable standards.
To coordinate efforts (as well as to forge lasting connections critical for the circular economy), revenue or capital sharing systems involving key suppliers or clients need to be set up, making sure that the participants are interested in the success of one another.
This approach is akin to an IT start-up, so the entrepreneurial spirit is naturally an essential part of the recycling industry, too. As a result, the companies that commit to circular economy transition now will get a head start, and those behind the curve will have to carry out costly reorganization fast.