The fourth industrial revolution will fundamentally alter the way we live, work, and relate to one another. In its scale, scope, and complexity, the transformation will be unlike anything humankind has experienced before. The waste management industry will not be an exception; it will be redefined too. In each and every industrial revolution the discovery of new techniques and new materials drives the creation of new types of products. Each and every new product, sooner or later becomes a new type of waste, in a virtuous cycle that brings always surprises to the waste industry.
Some examples: 3D printers already deliver 95-99% reductions of waste in specific industries and open a new set of great solutions for plastic recycling; robotic technologies provide unimaginable solutions for mixed waste separation; the Internet of Things can boost preventive maintenance, prolong life cycles and drive optimization and customization of home appliances; driverless cars and drones will make door to door collection and recycling cheaper and tailor made too.
There is an abundance of new fantastic solutions that are already reshaping our world and the potential for a wasteless future is more than clear and realistic, at least in the areas and the supply chains of the world that will be capable to integrate the miracles of the fourth industrial revolution within the waste and recycling industry. However, the problem is that our experiences from all the previous industrial revolutions indicate a different, risky pathway too. For the last 200 years, whenever we created advanced technological solutions that allowed us to deliver more products using less materials and energy, the actual response was to increase exponentially the consumption. Thus, despite the fact that waste materials or wasted energy per unit was much lower due to industrial optimization practices, the result was to accelerate resource depletion and waste generation in unbelievable rates, creating what is called the Anthropocene, the era in which the human footprint is transformed in a geological one.
This is also the case of the fourth industrial revolution. Are we going to utilize it towards a circular economy or we will just accelerate resource depletion with advanced efficiency? Are we going to redesign products, business models and social practices or we are going to continue with fast food, fast fashion and built-in obsolescence? Are we going to rethink, reboot and remake the manufacturing and thus, the waste management sector too or we are going to simply watch new waves of exotic waste arriving and try to manage them with end of pipe solutions?
No one knows the answer, and definitely it depends much more on the required transformation of manufacturing, rather than the response of the waste industry. Still, we need to be prepared for a brand new world, where many of the current practices will be simply irrelevant or wiped out by radical innovation.
This is why ISWA asks all the waste management and recycling sector, all the professionals and academics, all the companies and research institutes to participate in the first global survey about the fourth industrial revolution and the future of waste management. The survey aims to collect opinions and views to identify the impact of the fourth Industrial Revolution on the waste management sector. The results will be published by ISWA and become available to all the participants. Since this is the first survey of its kind, we ask participants to take the time to reflect on the questions, as their input will provide the basis for evaluating and identifying the most important challenges the waste management sector is going to face.
Join the survey and be prepared for the disruption ahead. Help us to create a collective Roadmap, the mindsets and the tools required for remaking, rethinking and redefining one of the most crucial elements of our day to day lives: the waste industry.