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3 ways companies are using sustainability technology: Expert

Earth Day is right around the corner — Monday, April 22 — along with earnings for major recycling service companies like Waste Management (WM) and Republic Services (RSG). What can be learned from these companies as well as how much of an opportunity is there in sustainability?

PA Consulting Sustainability & Regenerative Economy Expert Tony Perrotta joins Yahoo Finance to discuss market opportunities in sustainability, to which he believe there is $12 trillion worth of value, and how companies are utilizing recycling technologies already.

Perrotta lays out the major ways companies are working to adopt sustainable methods: "First, better mechanical recycling practices are definitely growing and on the scene, leveraged by things like vision technology, robotics, and any conversation that includes technology obviously includes AI... Second, here in the US, advanced recycling technologies are coming on the scene in a major way, so the ability to either use a chemical process or a physical heat process to take hard-to-recycle materials and return them back to useable form. And then, finally, what we're most excited about is a move into novel and alternative materials altogether. In this realm, you've got things like seaweed, alginates, and plant-based fibers..."

For more expert insight and the latest market action, click here to watch this full episode.

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This post was written by Nicholas Jacobino

Video transcript

[AUDIO LOGO]

JULIE HYMAN: Well, earth day is around the corner. And so are earnings results for two top waste and recycling service providers, waste management and republic services. As these companies look to reach their environmental friendly goals, we're digging into the market opportunities via sustainability efforts. Joining us now to discuss, we have Tony Perrotta, PA consulting sustainability and regenerative economy expert, Tony.

Thanks so much for being here with us. I want to talk to you about this stat you mentioned in your notes. You say that there's a $12 trillion market opportunity in achieving global sustainability goals. How are the two companies we just mentioned, waste management and republic services preparing to capitalize off of that?

TONY PERROTTA: Absolutely, first thank you for having me. There's a battle raging for materials and recycled materials of all kinds. Be it plastic, metal, aluminum, rare earth minerals, et cetera. Companies like waste management and republic services have the ability to take the landfills of today. And turn them into the urban gold mines of tomorrow. We're projected to need a global demand of about 90 million tons of recycled plastic by 2030.

We are projected to be able to only supply about 60 million tons. So we're already at the starting line with a 50% gap or opportunity just in the next 6 to 7 years ahead of us.

JULIE HYMAN: And do you think that the entities out there, whether it be those two publicly traded waste management companies or the others are indeed rising to take advantage of that market opportunity. Are they moving fast enough?

TONY PERROTTA: I do. I would offer three avenues that these companies are taking as well as many others. First, better mechanical recycling practices are definitely growing and on the scene leveraged by things like vision technology, robotics and any conversation that includes technology. Obviously, includes AI. Both of those companies that you've mentioned are employing those tools at pace as well as some others around the world.

Second here in the US, advanced recycling technologies are coming on the scene in a major way. So the ability to either use a chemical process or a physical heat process to take hard to recycle materials and return them back to usable form. And then finally, what we're most excited about is a move into novel and alternative materials altogether. In this realm, you've got things like seaweeds alginates and plant based fibers.

Some amazing examples like not PLA and a company that we've partnered with pillpack which uses plant based fibers to replace plastics.

JULIE HYMAN: And I'm curious, I know you have a really good picture on what's going on in terms of recycling and unique solutions in the space. Just because we have earth day coming up and I know that I could be improving my recycling to put it out there. What are some of the biggest mistakes that you see people making and what do you advise people to do in your own life to make sure that they are recycling correctly?

TONY PERROTTA: Absolutely, so consumers can and should evaluate their options for sustainability where they are in their own journey today. So for example in the world of fashion, 3D printing is an amazing technology. But not everyone can afford an Oliver Charles 3D printed t-shirt. Alternatively, we've got cold laundry detergent available that lowers your carbon footprint as well as now comes in, what is considered a more sustainable package.

So I think consumers really need to consider where they are in their personal journey. And what they can do for their family and their convenience needs. More importantly, in our opinion, global brands are embracing the fact that consumers want and expect them to do more. For years, the narrative has been, we have to educate the consumer on how to dispose of our product. I think that's finally shifted to what can we do to make this easier and make sustainability irresistible.

JULIE HYMAN: Well, and Tony, finally, on that note as well, it feels like there has been a certain amount of public cynicism and skepticism that has crept in about recycling. There have been stories out there over the past few years that the stuff you're throwing in your bin isn't really getting recycled-- and recycled. So I wonder if you have seen a decrease in the amount that people are recycling as a result or if these companies have managed to fight against that perception successfully.

There's definitely been a perception at the consumer level. This notion of wish cycling, I'm throwing things into a bin with the hope and expectation that something comes of that material is certainly true. However, we are seeing increased recycling rates. There are a number of states in the us that have just doubled the bottle return offering. So Connecticut for example has doubled it to $0.10. There are amazing new alternatives, again in the world of technology to be able to collect that material.

These are extraordinarily complex systems based challenges. All technology takes a ramp up period that combined with the novel and alternative material landscape in the world of material science. I think leads me to be very pragmatically optimistic. All right. Tony, we're going to have to leave it there. But thank you so much for that primer. Really appreciate it. That was Tony Perotta, joining us.