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  • Dear Readers!

    There are some things in life that are unavoidable simply because it is impossible to foresee them. Other things though could have been prevented if those involved had been perhaps a little more mindful and taken that all important look ahead. Would the Titanic have hit the iceberg at full speed, if Captain Smith and his crew had seen the ice before it was too late? Very unlikely. They had received ice warnings but the ocean was calm and everyone was fine on board the ship. The majority of the passengers were in good spirits – right up until the collision happened. We humans are in a pretty similar position in the 21st Century. We have received warnings about the impending effects of climate change and we have been told that supplies of natural resources are already running low – and yet we are still sailing at full speed towards a head-on collision. Despite the fact that the UN recently officially confirmed that the world’s population will have reached 10 billion people by 2050. 10 billion who will all want to live as comfortably as we Europeans already do today with our 22-tonne consumption of raw materials per capita per year. China, for example, currently only consumes 11 tonnes per person per year. We continue, for the most part, to turn a blind eye to the fact that our planet simply does not have enough raw materials for such a scenario and – even if there are sufficient supplies of some materials – it would not be particularly smart to continue to mine and consume them in such large quantities if the problems of climate change are to be overcome. 

    Maybe human nature lies at the root of the problem. Our lives run in a straight line – from when they begin, to when they end. Linear thinking is in our genes so to speak. And this is precisely how we have always developed and made our products since we used the very first axe. From the idea at the beginning, to using the product, all the way through to the final moment when the product is broken and can no longer be used. There is no afterwards. If a sustainable economy is to be created, however, it is high time that this line is transformed into a circle.

    Practicable solutions to solving our supply problems have been around for a long while now. All around the world, people have been carrying out research work to find new technologies and better systems to enable raw materials to be recovered so that they can be reused. Recycling must finally do what its name implies, i.e. create loops so that all raw materials can be returned to production cycles. Economic growth and the consumption of raw materials must become separate from one another. A few major steps must be taken before that is possible though. Firstly, an ecodesign directive needs to be introduced across Europe that not only places importance on energy efficiency (as is the case at the moment) but also on raw material efficiency and the recyclability of products. Secondly, far more money needs to be invested in researching, developing and setting up more and better sorting and recycling facilities to ensure the recovered raw materials are of the highest possible quality. And thirdly, politicians need to create incentives to encourage industrial businesses to use more recycled raw materials in their production processes. Digitalisation and e-mobility, in particular, need huge volumes of raw materials. The most environmentally friendly source – one that also allows us to remain independent – is recycled raw materials.

    Our steamship is still more or less intact but it continues to sail towards a head-on collision with Mother Nature. It is not too late to change course, though, if we reach the right conclusions and take some mindful and far-sighted steps towards more and better recycling. There are plenty of reasons to be optimistic – quite a few of which can be found in this issue. 

    Yours

    Ludger Rethmann

More detailed information is needed

The business world and politicians need to change the current situation so that consumers are able to choose products that genuinely are environmentally friendly. The ‘Blue Angel’ certification was certainly a good step in the right direction but is not enough to really promote resource conservation.

The idea

Ideally, consumers should be able to recognise immediately just how green the product they are interested in actually is and to what extent it can be recycled. A recycling label with a simple colour code (similar to the well-known energy efficiency label for electrical appliances) could promote more environmentally friendly consumer behaviour. Manufacturers would be encouraged to follow the strict ecodesign regulations and use recycled raw materials. Consumers know exactly what the colours red, amber and green mean. They would recognise immediately how environmentally-friendly or unfriendly products are. The next step must then be to allow consumers to access full infor-mation about how sustainable the product actually is. A special registration agency or product labelling agency would have to be set up to ensure that such a label was both reliable and credible. All products sold on the EU  market should then be checked to make sure they are what they claim to be.

An intelligent use of resources, a high degree of recyclability and low carbon emissions are three of the factors that determine just how green a product really is.

  • What information needs to be passed on

    1. How long is the product’s service life, functionality & useful life? 
    2. What resources were used to make the product?
    3. To what extent can the product be recycled?  
    4. What is its carbon footprint? 
  • What the recycling industry expects this label to achieve

    The industry’s response to the call for greater energy efficiency has been to reduce the weight and volume of their products. To be able to achieve this, however, they have had to mix, fuse or stick raw materials together. The result: it is often no longer possible for recycling businesses to separate the composite materials from each other. The only option available is to incinerate the products to generate energy. The raw materials are lost to us forever. Both resource efficiency and the recyclability of a product play a decisive role in countries, such as Germany, that have so few natural resources of their own – impacting on society, industry and the economy. Consumers are dependent on the availability of raw materials for their products but they can exert influence as well. Their consumer behaviour affects both companies and politicians. An action that should be encouraged to help combat climate change, protect the environment and ensure local businesses remain competitive over the long term. Each and every consumer should be given this opportunity.

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