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The future is just around the corner and it will create some huge challenges for the human race. According to UN forecasts, there will be up to 10 billion people living on our planet in 2050. At the same time, the global middle class will grow exponentially as will the pro capita consumption of raw materials. Whilst today, Europeans already consume on average 22 tonnes per person per year, consumption in China lies at just under 12 tonnes. In contrast, people living in India consume on average a mere 4 tonnes although this figure is rising rapidly.
Humans are already con-suming resources from 1.7 Planet Earths every year.
Humans are already living well beyond their means. Earth Overshoot Day – the day when humanity has exhausted nature’s budget for the year – was on 01 August in 2017. Which means we are already consuming resources from 1.7 Planet Earths every year. The simple truth is that our future demand for raw materials will not be able to be covered by so-called primary raw materials. If the human race wishes to live together fairly and peacefully in the future then there can only be one source: recycled raw materials!
There is not a single technical nor economic reason why recycled raw materials should be considered to be a second-rate product. And this is most certainly true when it comes to environmental protection, social compatibility and combating climate change. Indeed, a closer look at the facts shows that metals, paper, plastics, mineral aggregate, base chemical products and even energy and heat from the recycling sector are far superior – making them instead the no. 1 choice.
No matter how many times a metal is smelted down, it remains the same metal with no loss in quality. Even materials, such as paper and plastic, can be recycled efficiently a number of different times and are a suitable and sustainable source material for various types of product, no matter which stage of their life cycle they may be at.
It is often said, with a certain amount of pride, that 14% of the total volume of raw materials needed by manufacturing businesses in Germany are supplied by the recycling sector. Looking at global warming and our environmental problems the question here should really be: Why only 14%?
Hardly any land is consumed to produce recycled raw materials. No-one has to first dig large holes in the ground to extract 500 tonnes of copper ore to produce just one tonne of pure copper. That amount of copper can be found in a good 10 tonnes of e-waste.
Huge amounts of energy are required to produce copper, aluminium, iron and other metals from their various ores, all of which leads to high levels of carbon emissions. A fraction of the energy is needed to produce the same quality of raw materials from recycling processes. Up to 8% of the crude oil processed in Europe every year is used to make plastics. No crude oil is needed for recycled plastic. If the shorter transport routes are also taken into account, then it becomes very clear that all recycled raw materials are a much better and far more sustainable option to help prevent climate change.
Recycled raw materials are more socially acceptable! Companies that purchase recycled raw materials sourced from local volumes of waste are also helping to reduce the overexploitation of raw materials in politically unstable countries with their social inequalities and ineffective environmental laws – and the often catastrophic effects such overexploitation has on local communities and
the local environment. Recycled raw materials are raw materials that involve neither child labour nor exploitation
Delaying decisions does not lead to a better outcome and this also applies to the price of oil and other raw materials. Our planet’s growing population cancels out any gains in efficiency we may achieve – the so-called rebound effect. Those who wish to continue to have cost-effective and sustainable production processes in the future will have to increase the amount of materials they buy from local, environmentally friendly sources.
Looking at the medium-term picture, industrial locations will only be able to survive, if they have access to afford-able raw materials that have been produced with as little impact as possible on both our environment and climate. This is particularly true for countries, such as Germany, that have so few natural raw materials of their own and expect their production activities to meet stringent environmental standards. Recycled raw materials are the only true source for a sustainable future.
A meaningful ecodesign directive should make it obligatory to use sustainable raw materials. The long-term aim must be for industrial businesses to publish the efforts they are making to achieve sustainable development and for them to announce with pride that they are increasing the amount of recycled raw materials used to make their products. At the end of the day, environmentally responsible consumers want to know whether the product they are using has been prod-uced with clean, sustainable and climate-friendly processes. There really is only one way to meet all these requirements: to use recycled raw materials!