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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. 


    Ludger Rethmann

Demand for raw materials is steadily rising

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!

Recycling is the best option

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. 

Recycled raw materials are of the same high quality!

  • 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.

Recycled raw materials are available on home markets and help make local industrial businesses less dependent on imports!

  • 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%?

  • Recycled raw materials are so much better for the environment!

    • 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.

40 times less energy is needed to produce recycled raw materials, helping to cut carbon emissions!

  • 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!

  • 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

Recycled raw materials are easier to procure, lowering the pressure on local industrial businesses to find source materials!

  • 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.

Recycled raw materials safeguard industrial locations in Europe and secure jobs!

  • 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.

The framework conditions need to be right

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!

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