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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

Natural resources are getting low

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.

NASA researchers identify the scarcity of raw materials as the greatest threat to civilisation

  • 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.

From towns to megacities

  • 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.

Emerging technologies in jeopardy

  • 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.

Nature on the retreat

  • 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.

Experts and decision-makers are aware of
the problem

  • 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.

Heading into the future with REMONDIS

  • 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.

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