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  • Dear Readers!

    If you look back at the editorial in the last issue of REMONDIS AKTUELL, then you’ll find that the comments made there were almost prophetic. Just one of the topics it mentioned was the droughts in 2018, predicting that we could expect much of the same this year. Here we are, just a few months on, and this prediction has come true. Having analysed empirical evidence and ice cores, the overwhelming majority of climatologists agree that these weather conditions have been caused by industrialised humans – and that they can only be put right by humans. The question here, of course, is how. Most people are focusing on cars, energy generated by fossil fuels and, of course, air travel. Everyone is talking about the electrification of vehicles. You just need to consider the physical facts, however, to realise this will not be easy to implement. Germany’s national grid, for example, would be unable to supply the power needed if all vehicle owners tried to recharge their car batteries at the same time. The question must, therefore, be asked whether electromobility is the right solution. The move towards the electrification of vehicles is well underway though, as is the switch from fossil fuels to renewable energy. Scientists, however, are predicting that these measures will not be enough on their own. We have another good idea here and one that is practicable – as can be seen by REMONDIS’ daily work. Namely, making the most of the potential of recycling to curb climate change, preferably on a global scale. If humans were to succeed in systematically recovering raw materials and returning them to production cycles and if they were to stop sending waste to landfill (so methane is not produced there), then this would be the third most effective way of reducing greenhouse gas emissions. Germany made this move back in 2005 when it passed the ‘TASi’ [Technical Directive on the Recycling, Treatment and Disposal of Municipal Waste]. It is high time that a European TASi is drawn up or – even better – a global TASi. We are systematically implementing this law at REMONDIS every single day.

    Looking at the international stage, Russia is intensifying its efforts to reduce the amount of waste it takes to landfill by creating a well-functioning circular economy. The Russian government has launched an initiative that has made it obliga- tory for all 80 Russian regions to appoint a general operator to modernise their regional waste management sector and set up more recycling systems. For many years now, REMONDIS has been running just such a system in Saransk, the capital city of the Russian Republic of Mordovia and – according to a 2010 survey – one of the best cities to live in in Russia. The city is, therefore, acting as a role model, showing the direction that the Russian waste management sector could move in in the future.

    A number of our new apprentices joined the ‘Fridays for Future’ movement when they were at school, calling for more to be done to stop climate change. And so it was a logical decision for them to do their apprenticeship at REMONDIS where they can carve out a sustainable career for themselves, “Every Day for Future” so to speak. REMONDIS’ systematic recycling operations ensure waste is transformed into raw materials, energy and heat and play a considerable role in conserving natural resources and tackling climate change. Welcome to the climate professionals.

    Max Köttgen

Not really sustainable

People trying to make plastic from renewable raw materials are looking to create a biodegradable product. And it would appear that an ever growing number of companies like using these supposedly organic materials. From biodegradable packaging, to biodegradable bin liners, all the way through to biodegradable coffee capsules – the range of biodegradable products is steadily increasing. These materials, however, are creating a major problem for the recycling sector – the promise of sustainability ends here.

Much room for improvement

One advantage of these bioplastics is that they have a positive impact on a company’s ecological footprint. This material obviously helps conserve fossil fuel reserves as they are made completely or partially out of renewable raw materials. Another advantage is that if they end up where they shouldn’t, i.e. in the countryside, then they will have less of an impact on the environment than conventional plastic as they will eventually decompose. The way these eco-friendly materials are currently being handled and recycled, however, needs to be improved.

Supposedly compostable food packaging and bioplastic bags need far too long to decompose – they often end up back on our fields

The current problems with bioplastics

  • Biodegradable materials are not always 100% biodegradable. Products may be called “biodegradable” if 90% of their content has decomposed after a period of twelve weeks. This means that organic waste that has been recycled in a composting plant or digester still contains bioplastic particles that have not decomposed. This is because these processes at industrial plants are much shorter than twelve weeks. The particles end up on our fields – as is the case with normal plastic – and find their way into our ecosystem and food chain. Composting is, therefore, not the right way to recycle these materials.
  • Recycling these materials with other types of waste plastic is also problematic. The presence of biodegradable plastic in volumes of conventional waste plastic actually hampers the process used to recycle genuine plastic. The bioplastics lower the quality of the recycled product.
  • Introducing a separate collection scheme for bioplastics and setting up a dedicated recycling system for this material make no sense either from an environmental or economic point of view as they are not biodegradable when they are batched together on their own.
  • Thermal treatment is the only sensible way to recycle these biodegradable materials. They have a high-energy content, which at best can be used to generate energy.

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