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According to the latest calculations, we need approx. 1.7 planets to cover our annual consumption of the Earth’s raw materials – a figure that is rising all the time. This development not only directly impacts on our ability to provide people with what they need but also on our social framework and the competitive-ness and sustainability of our economy. What’s more, it is being fuelled by social megatrends such as spreading urbanisation as well as by the environmental damage caused by mining activities. Our supplies of raw materials are finite – we need to make sure that our future doesn’t become the same.
In 2017, scientists working at the Universities of Maryland and Minnesota presented the initial results of their research work on ‘human and nature dynamics’, a project com-missioned by NASA. This research paper explains how the cor relation between social inequalities and the over-exploi-tation of natural resources is the most important criterion leading to the collapse of civilisations. Our society is, the researchers say, heading straight towards collapse. Other recent studies, trends and developments come to similar – if less drastic – conclusions.
The UN defines a megacity as any town with more than 10 million inhabitants. There are already 18 such mega-cities around the globe and 45 cities with over 5 million inhabitants. 75% of the world’s population will be living in megacities by 2050. At the same time, around 75% of global energy production will be consumed in megacities and almost 7 billion tonnes of waste generated every single day. These are huge numbers – and the challenges will be just as great to provide the logistics needed and to satisfy the demand for raw materials.
Digitalisation, the 4th industrial revolution (or Industry 4.0), e-mobility, the switch to renewables and technological developments in aviation are all fields in which the demand for specific metals and materials is expected to increase rapidly. And, the BDI [The Federation of German Industries] says, it is precisely these raw materials which industries may find difficult to get hold of in the future. The EU has named at least 14 critical raw materials where access to supplies is at risk and, as a result, may hold back technological progress and economic growth.
More often than not, mining activities end up destroying the countryside and polluting the environment. Many cases can be found – in South America and other parts of the world including Germany – where damage has been done to the countryside that is practically impossible to reverse. At the same time, long-distance transport from faraway regions is having a hugely negative impact on the environment.
In the Fraunhofer Institute’s study, ‘Raw materials for emerging technologies’, the experts and decision-makers not only assume that demand will increase, they are also very much aware of just how relevant this problem will be. Looking at the 11 areas that potentially pose a risk to our way of life, they name the scarcity of energy and raw ma terials as the second-greatest risk most likely to damage our economy – just behind a possible collapse of the financial markets. Besides affecting the economy, this would also impact on society and the environment.
Emerging technologies, urbanisation, the destruction of our countryside – these all directly impact on humans, on our ability to live in peace with one another and on economic stability. The fundamental principle behind all our company’s operations is to provide a reliable and sustainable supply of recycled raw materials. Indeed, REMONDIS’ combination of high quality recycled raw materials and first-rate services make an important contribution towards creating a better future in many different ways. A whole variety of materials are being recovered and returned to the economic cycle as top quality products. REMONDIS’ research departments are constantly looking at ways to develop new technologies so that as much waste as possible – preferably all waste – can be reused. Why? Because closed loops are essential if progress is to continue to be made in the future.