Themes in focus: waste management

Five reasons we like the waste management investment theme.

FacebooktwitterlinkedinmailFacebooktwitterlinkedinmail   by Tertius Bonnin, 29th July 2020

Continually evolving changes to our consumer lifestyles has a serious yet often ignored ugly side: the creation of vast amounts of solid waste. By 2050, the World Bank expects waste generation to outpace population growth by more than double. While there are improvements and innovations in the waste management industry globally, it remains a complex issue with need for urgent action.

We outline five key reasons we like waste management below:

1) Plastics only scratch the surface

There is more to waste than meets the eye. While plastic is the most obvious material when someone mentions this topic, it makes up just 12% of all municipal solid waste. Paper and cardboard, metals, glass, and food and green (organic materials) each contribute more to the overall mass of waste generated than plastics, and each has its own industry and associated opportunities.

2) Rising levels of consumption will create yet more waste

A consequence of a rising global middle class and an overall move towards urbanisation is that as incomes and consumption rise, so does the amount of waste. Where populations in high income countries have largely urbanised – meaning waste per capita is already high and moves towards recycling schemes are in place – 80% of waste in emerging nations is still disposed of in open air dumps and landfill sites. This results in rising levels of pollution in air, soil and groundwater.

3) Asian economies clamping down on imports

For a long time, developed economies have benefited from exporting waste to emerging nations in order to manage domestic pollution levels. In recent years, however, China, India and other major Asian economies have begun to clamp down on waste imports in an attempt to protect their own ecosystems. This seismic shift highlights the now urgent need for investment in projects such as waste management or recycling processing plants, and in turn it creates significant investment opportunities.

4) Waste becomes a valuable commodity

Even in recent years, there has been incredible innovation in the waste management industry as companies turn other people’s refuse into a valuable commodity. Applications for processed waste are vast, spanning from agricultural fertilisers to heating and power. Some European nations are also now operating plastic bottle recycling schemes which use advanced technologies to collect and sort plastic bottles which can then be resold back into the supply chain.

5) Evolving regulation is building the idea of a circular economy

Emissions target levels agreed in the Paris Climate Agreement give regulators a robust framework (such as the EU Landfill Directive) to work from with regards to managing waste and building on the idea of a circular economy. A great example of how regulation is evolving is in India, where the law states that new highways need to incorporate re-used plastic in their construction. The country now has over 21,000 miles of plastic roads!

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About the author: Tertius Bonnin

Tertius joined EQ in 2016 and is responsible for covering investment ideas within US, Global and Thematic equities. He sits on the fund selection committee and also supports the portfolio managers across a range of other responsibilities.

He passed Level I of the CFA exam in 2018, holds the Investment Management Certificate and has a BA in Business with Finance. He enjoys a variety of sports including skiing, cycling and running – and when not in the office he experiments with Asian cuisine.

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