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Capturing uncaptured values — A Danish case study on municipal preparation for reuse and recycling of waste

Zacho, Kristina Overgaard, Mosgaard, Mette, Riisgaard, Henrik
Resources, conservation, and recycling 2018 v.136 pp. 297-305
accounting, cardboard, case studies, circular economy, cost effectiveness, economic valuation, interviews, managers, plastics, recycling, sales, social benefit, waste wood, wastes
The current call for a transition towards circular economy is often accompanied by the assumption that there are value creation potentials to be captured along with increased resource efficiency. In this study, we aim to provide more detailed knowledge about the size and characteristics of the potential value to be captured from the resources embedded in waste. In order to investigate circular economy potentials in a real-life context, we apply case study research. The case is a municipal waste management company collecting and managing household waste. A number of initiatives are employed to collect as much waste for reuse and recycling as possible. The waste fractions with the highest collection potential are identified as being cardboard, plastics, waste wood and items for reuse. The subsequent processes of preparing these waste types for reuse and recycling are analyzed in the perspective of circular economy value creation. The data include waste amounts, the company’s economic accounting, interviews and observations. From the perspective of the municipal waste authority, the largest value creation potential (economically, socially and environmentally) lies in preparing waste for reuse. Secondly, cardboard for recycling has an economic value potential. The collection, preparation and sales of waste wood and plastics constitute an economic deficit and hold limited environmental and social value. The findings suggest that the current regulation of the waste sector does not sufficiently support a transition to circular economy. From a focus on cost-effectiveness, waste managers must additionally change their mindsets towards a focus on value creation and increase reuse related activities.