- Analysis from Boston-based firm Lux Research found technologies in the U.S. and European waste and recycling industries received $668 million in venture capital funding between April 2011 and 2016, as reported by Quartz.
- Material recycling accounted for 65% of deals, followed by waste-to-energy at 21% and wastewater treatment at 14%. Software, data analytics and robotics were all major focuses of these deals.
- While investments in material recycling technologies increased 186% during that time period, investments in waste-to-energy have dropped by about 50% since 2014.
The report's author, analyst Jerrold Wang, pointed to a variety of factors behind this increased interest in recycling materials through methods other than converting them to energy. Wang pointed to a desire for recycled over virgin materials by manufacturers, lower energy costs, new "zero waste" diversion goals and a growing interest in circular economy systems as some of the main reasons. He also pointed to companies such as Zerocycle as an example of how technology can change standard recycling models.
"Recycling has not yet realized its full potential to serve the world in an innovative, environmental, and economic way," said Wang, as reported by Environmental Leader. "Considerable opportunities for material, data analytics, and robotic innovations still exist in waste collection, sorting, and processing."
While waste-to-energy may no longer be the best way to get value from waste in some markets, many in the industry believe it still has an important role to play. Depending on how the definition is interpreted, some of the new resource recovery projects that divert recyclables before processing the remaining waste through various methods could be included in that category and offer promising potential.
Until other recycling technologies can evolve further to process all material types cost-effectively, it makes sense to look at waste-to-energy as a logical step for recovering value from material before sending it to a landfill.