Q&A with Mr. Harald Henriksen, EVP & Head of Collection Solutions, TOMRA Norway, on their 45-year recycling history, the pioneering recycling machine & more

Q. TOMRA’s transformational projects on sustainability are very pertinent for South Asian countries. Tell us a bit about TOMRA’s projects?

A. Sustainability has been the business of TOMRA since 1972, when it launched the breakthrough reverse vending machines to receive beverage containers for recycling. Reverse vending increases the efficiency of container deposit schemes and enhances their purity so that the collected materials can be turned into new containers. This closed-loop recycling contributes to the circular economy concept, as compared to the linear economy that otherwise dominates our societies.

TOMRA has expanded its recycling technology to sensor-based sorters for processing raw waste and metals, to achieve the highest possible recovery rates. As such, TOMRA offers solutions for the total waste management universe. An exciting sustainability project globally is TOMRA’s sponsorship for eXXpedition, a scientific voyage across the Great Pacific Garbage Patch to measure and raise awareness of marine litter.

At a local level, we are closely following developments in India, and opportunities to position ourselves to add value. In any new market, we work with different players to understand local waste culture and pilot packaging needs. Waste – whether in streets, waterways, or pushing landfills to capacity – is high on the agenda in India, as awareness of the problem increases.

Picture 1TOMRA’s Recycling (Reverse Vending) Machines

Q. Tell us a bit about the process undertaken by TOMRA’s plastic recycling machines. What were the main challenges it faced?

A. TOMRA’s products enable recycling of all kinds of materials, not only plastics. In reverse vending, containers are transported back to the producer for refilling, or to a processing facility for shredding before producing new containers. Of course, only those containers collected can be recycled, so a key challenge is to stimulate consumer returns. That is where the container deposit schemes play a vital role.

Also key is the beverage industry’s commitment to bring more recycled material into their production of new containers.

TOMRA’s recycling sorting technology separates out different materials and contaminants, to similarly increase purity, recovery rates, market value and profitability of recycled materials. Many materials considered waste can be used for recycling or energy recovery. In today’s age of scarce resources, a challenge is changing the mind-sets to disposal alternatives that are preferable to landfill or incineration.

Q. Is there any opportunity you envisage for collaborations with Indian companies on this front? In which areas can Indian firms and TOMRA be of mutual benefit to each other?

A. TOMRA has co-operations around the world, working with government, business and non-profit organisations to make recycling and sustainability a success. A waste management solution of the scale required for India will certainly need extensive collaboration and strong partnerships. In the example of reverse vending, whatever drink containers are returned must be transported from collection points to processing facilities by logistics partners, and there must be customers ready to bring those recycled materials into their supply chains. We are investigating how we can truly add value in the region and the type of partners needed to create solutions for different local governments. The scale of the challenge in India is enormous, and so is the opportunity.

Picture 1TOMRA’s Recycling (Reverse Vending) Machines

Q. How do you think TOMRA’s engagement in India and South Asian countries be deepened further in sustainability areas?

A. With our 45 years of recycling experience across more than 60 markets, TOMRA can share with South Asia its first-hand insights into best practices for sustainability infrastructure. For example, Germany – which has 30,000 TOMRA reverse vending installations – has achieved a huge 98.5% return rate for PET containers and 96% for aluminium cans, the highest return rates in the world. The RoAF waste facility in Norway, which is equipped with 16 TOMRA optical sorters, has become the world’s first fully-automated material recovery facility. With no human labour needed for sorting or quality control, it is a uniquely advanced plant by global standards. Together with such operators, TOMRA can show how to prevent litter, reduce inflow to landfills, and achieve recycling quality.

Q. Triple bottom-line is picking up acceptance. What is your advice to innovators so that they are able to develop more workable solutions that achieve triple bottom-line?

A. Triple bottom-line – which seeks to measure not only a company’s profit but also its social and environmental impact, is being embraced the world over, as both authorities and consumers hold business to account for the communities in which they operate. Brands that think about triple bottom-line build brands and relationships by delighting customers, but mustn’t be simply relegated to the marketing department; it needs to be part of the management culture, driving companies to think bigger picture about their true role and value in society. Although triple bottom-line encourages companies to think of three separate balance sheets for profit, people and planet, these metrics also interact. For example, container deposit schemes may be initiatives to help the environment, but they also have an economic benefit of creating green jobs, and increasing efficiency by making waste management more organised and manageable.

Picture 1TOMRA’s Recycling (Reverse Vending) Machines

Q. What efforts should be done to deepen the acceptability amongst the business community about the EPR challenge? EU states like Belgium practice self-restraint, but the mind-set of Indian companies is far from it. What is your view on how best to tackle this?

A. Extended Producer Responsibility (EPR) regulations stimulate businesses to take responsibility for becoming tonnage-neutral in the packaging they produce. These policies drive sustainability infrastructure, creating win-win outcomes for government, business and wider community.

EPR mandates also have economic benefits for business. If beverage producers pledge to use recycled materials again and again in their containers, it can make production cheaper in total.

Fighting against public demand for EPR risks damaging customer relationships, brand and ultimately the company’s bottom-line. In the past, producers were able to put out whatever packaging they wanted, without responsibility for its disposal. But, worldwide, that position is changing – the problem of litter and pollution is part of everyone’s lives and can no longer be ignored.

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