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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

Huge environmental potential

  • Whether it be kitchen waste, grass cuttings and old wood or organic substances from the wastewater generated by the food industry: biomass has a huge potential to help us and our environment. Systematically recycling these materials provides at least a partial solution to two major challenges faced by society – feeding our world’s growing population and supplying them with environmentally friendly electricity and heat.

Compost use in Germany

Agricultural land is disappearing

Whilst the number of people needing to be fed around the world is growing all the time, the conditions for supplying them with food are slowly deteriorating. More people mean more housing and more housing means fewer fields for growing crops. What’s more, climate change is also likely to reduce the amount of good agricultural land available to us. The farmers’ response has been to try and achieve higher yields on smaller areas – also by maintaining and improving the quality of their soil.

REMONDIS transforms biomass into top quality products with a high nutrient content including composts, fertilisers, substrates and mulch. They improve the quality and the structure of the soil and regulate water flow. Furthermore, the company uses biomass to generate climate-neutral energy. The biomethane produced in its biogas plants is either fed into the natural gas network or used to produce electricity and heat. What’s more, it could be used as a fuel for collection vehicles that empty, for example, organic waste bins. Wood-based biofuels are turned into energy and heat in biomass-fired power plants. Using such materials to generate energy reduces our consumption of our planet’s finite fossil fuels and cuts carbon emissions – helping to curb climate change.

Organic waste often ends up in the wrong bin

  • The whole question of the sustainable benefits of recycling biomass is uncontroversial. Processes for recycling organic materials are well established and provide a reliable supply of marketable products. Having said that, however, the potential of this material is not being fully exploited in Germany. Just one example – household organic waste: the German Circular Economy Law [KrWG] stipulates that – as from the beginning of 2015 – this waste stream must be collected separately. And yet many households around Germany still do not have an organic waste bin. Huge volumes of biomass continue to be thrown into the residual waste bin.

Over 50 plants in Europe

    • REMONDIS operates its own biomass recycling plants or helps others to run such facilities at 46 different locations across Germany. The company can also be found abroad – operating five plants in the Netherlands, four in Poland and three in Australia. It produces 800,000 tonnes alone of high quality  compost products (sold under its HUMERRA® brand) every year.

Biomass – what needs to be done?

  • The following measures would enable more raw materials to be recovered:

    • Taking steps to ensure the law – i.e. biowaste must be collected separately – is actually enforced
    • Providing all households with organic waste bins to make sure biowaste is collected all across the country
    • Publishing information regularly about the advantages of sorting/collecting organic materials separately from other waste streams
    • Aspiring to reduce levels of “contamination” in organic waste collections to 1 percent by weight
    • Putting compost and/or digestate products on an equal footing with primary products and manure
    • Giving certified composts legal product status
    • Fertiliser Ordinance: strengthening the position of composts as a sustainable soil improver

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