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  • Dear Readers!

    In Germany super election year 2017 is well underway. The Saarland election has already taken place, with Schleswig-Holstein and the most populous of the German Länder, North Rhine-Westphalia, set to follow in May. General elections for the Bundestag will then be taking place in September. In these times of populism and fake news, this election will play a pivotal role. Germany has the strongest economy and largest population in Europe. The outcome of the election will have repercussions for all of Europe and influence economic and political relations with other countries around the world. In view of the dimensions involved, a key topic unfortunately often takes back seat: recycling and its importance to climate and environmental policy. We wanted to size things up accurately and enquired with all the major political party groups about their platforms concerning environmental policy in the upcoming legislative period and beyond. You will find a summary of the responses in this issue’s feature article and the complete responses online at remondis-aktuell.de. Whether elections turn out to be good for the climate and the environment in general and our growth sector in particular will ultimately be decided by hopefully well informed, active citizens.

    Some legislative bills have been initiated shortly before the elections – for example, the new Commercial Waste Regulation (Gewerbeabfallverordnung). It will involve important changes that have a major impact on our commercial customers when the new regulation goes into effect on 1 August 2017 at the latest. Under the new version, companies producing waste in connection with housing construction will be obligated to separately collect the waste items of paper, cardboard and pasteboard with the exception of hygienic paper, glass, plastics, metals, wood, textiles, organic waste and additional commercial and industrial waste already where it comes about, i.e. at companies themselves. The same goes for construction and demolition waste, which is already to be separated at the building site into the various waste categories such as glass, plastics, metals, wood, insulation material, bituminous mixtures, building material based on gypsum, concrete, bricks, tiles and ceramics. This is no doubt good news for improved recovery of raw materials, but it also means greater expenses for customers, who ­REMONDIS will support professionally as accustomed with practicable services in line with laws and regulations. 

    And how do things stand at present when it comes to refugee policy? The number of new persons seeking asylum arriving in Germany has dropped significantly. The biggest challenge now is to successfully integrate these people in our society and the German world of work. ­REMONDIS is taking on this challenge, hiring young people as well as persons with work experience in various fields who have lost their home as a result of war, famine and displacement and now want to venture a new beginning in their adopted country of Germany. A real win-win situation, as a successful start to a vocational career is the best contribution that can be made to a society living together in prosperity and peace. Here as well, ­REMONDIS meets its responsibility to society as a whole, acting in the spirt of its own slogan: working for the future!

    Yours

    Thomas Conzendorf

A reliable supply of raw materials is vital

Industrialised nations with a strong manufacturing sector that relies heavily on exports need to have access to a reliable source of raw materials. If they don’t, then their employees’ jobs will be put at risk as indeed will prosperity levels across the whole of the country. It is, however, no longer possible to assume that there will be a reliable supply of raw materials in the future. As is the case elsewhere, Germany is being forced to find new and innovative ways to get hold of the resources it needs. One solution here is to head towards a truly circular economy – to break the link between economic growth and the consumption of natural resources. The raw materials that have already been removed from nature must be constantly circulated so that they can be re-used again and again and again.

Studies weigh up the potential

Both the State Ministry for Economic Affairs responsible for North Rhine-Westphalia (NRW) and the Emscher-Lippe regional authorities, therefore, each commissioned studies to be carried out to examine the possibility of creating a circular economy in their region – i.e. to look into the potential of fully recycling all available raw materials and breaking away from the traditional linear ‘take, make, dispose’ economic model. The reasons for this are clear: as global problems, such as climate change, dwindling supplies of natural resources and the destruction of ecosystems, continue to intensify so, too, is there a growing awareness for the need to curb global warming, protect the environment and conserve our planet’s natural resources by harmonising production and consumer behaviour.

Identifying opportunities & risks

Besides carrying out extensive desk research work, the study authors also held a large number of interviews with a variety of companies to identify the opportunities that were already available as well as to pinpoint the limits and risks.

A circular economy should, above all, lead to more innovations and economic growth at industrial and business locations

REMONDIS was one of the companies selected by both studies to act as an example of best practice. The principle of a circular economy has been at the core of the company’s philosophy since the very beginning. Norbert Rethmann, the founder of the company, made sure that his guiding principle, “Recycling rather than disposal”, was written into the company guidelines back in 1978. Since then, the ultimate goal of the whole of the Group has been to close an ever growing number of product life cycles. Since this family-run business was founded, therefore, its operations have focused entirely on creating a circular economy.

  • of recyclables are recovered by the company every year so that they can be re-used

Identifying opportunities & risks

It is even possible to measure the amount of natural resources it saves: 30 million tonnes of recyclables are recovered by the company every year so that they can be re-used. One major reason for this success is the new recycling systems that the company has developed itself – systems that are being operated in state-of-the-art recycling facilities and reflect the principles of the circular economy. Both studies show that innovation is vital for the creation of a circular economy as the range of materials able to be recovered and re-used can only be increased if innovative recycling processes are developed and implemented.

Product design also plays an important role

What’s more, the studies also confirm the limits of the circular economy, at least in today’s society. Recycled raw materials must unite environmental protection, competitiveness and efficiency. They must be accepted by the market and by final consumers and have the same properties and high quality as primary raw materials. A great challenge, therefore, for recycling businesses such as REMONDIS when they set about developing their own products. With this in mind, REMONDIS has been calling for it to be made obligatory for manufacturers to design their products so that they can be easily recycled. It is often the case that it is simply impossible to recover materials for re-use because the individual substances built into the current product designs effectively disappear in the many tiny elements and composite materials. “You don’t need to be a recycling expert to know that it is practically impossible to separate the individual materials from one another,” commented Herwart Wilms, a managing director at REMONDIS. The company is doing everything in its power to cooperate with industrial businesses by running waste management systems on their behalf and acting as an adviser for product designers. This situation, however, also highlights the need for ambitious rules and regulations that deal with the recovery of raw materials. If the most is to be made of the opportunities available to safeguard our raw materials and curb global warming, then parliament needs to pass clear-cut and unambiguous legislation. A further obstacle exposed by the studies.

Educational initiatives to raise awareness

Another important factor for creating a truly circular economy (quite apart from the rules and regulations) is to make society more aware of the need to systematically separate their waste. Every company and every person can help increase the volumes of recyclables collected – and the impact would be immediate.

A further 8 million tonnes of recyclable materials could be saved if Germans separated them rather than throwing them into their residual waste bin. This volume alone would cut carbon emissions by 1.6 million tonnes a year. Well aware of this situation, REMONDIS has developed its “RECYCLING PROFESSIONALS” initiative that offers educational theatre shows and teaching material. Its goal here is to use a variety of fun activities to teach children at an early age about the scarcity of raw materials and the importance of collecting recyclables and separating waste.

The right framework conditions need to be in place

Besides leading to more innovations and economic growth, the studies confirm that the creation of a circular economy would, in all likelihood, result in more jobs at industrial and business locations. Ensuring there is a sustainable supply of raw materials is a global challenge that everyone must face no matter where in the world they may be. The 32,000 people employed by the REMONDIS Group around the globe all have one and the same goal: to protect the environment and create a sustainable circular economy. REMONDIS is one of the biggest employers in Germany and is continuously growing its workforce.

A circular economy should, above all, lead to more innovations and economic growth at industrial and business locations.

Both studies conclude that a circular economy is possible in both regions, if the three following conditions have been fulfilled: firstly, companies and consumers must be made aware of this issue, for example by stepping up PR work. Secondly, technical innovations must be developed to increase recycling levels and thirdly local government must show and lead the way forward by passing modern environmental laws. Only then is it possible to promote and actively support a circular economy.

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