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1. August 2018

Earth Overshoot Day: humans are once again living beyond their means

This year’s raw materials have already been used up – more recycling could help out here

Global Footprint Network, an international non-profit organisation, has calculated that Earth Overshoot Day fell on 01 August this year. This is one day earlier than last year and means that humans are now once again using more natural resources than our planet can renew. The majority of the Earth’s resources are finite and others need years to regenerate. All very good reasons, therefore, for handling them responsibly and sustainably so that future generations will also have access to the vital raw materials they will need.

The Global Footprint Network’s calculations show that humans currently need 1.7 planets to satisfy their annual consumption of raw materials – a figure that is steadily growing. Earth Overshoot Day has come a little bit earlier every year since the organisation first began calculating this date. The USA is the no. 1 consumer of raw materials. If everyone lived as Americans currently do, then we would need five Earths to cover demand. We Germans are high up the list as well: three planets would be needed if the global population were to consume raw materials at the rate we do at the moment. In comparison, India is much further down the list needing just 0.7 Earths.

Recycling is an important source of raw materials

With the UN forecasting the world’s population to have reached 10 billion by 2050, it is clear that global demand cannot be satisfied by primary raw materials alone. If humans wish to continue to live in peace and enjoy similar living standards to those we have today, then they will have no other choice but to recover and recycle large volumes of – or preferably all – raw materials. Recycling natural raw materials that have already been removed from nature reduces land consumption to an absolute minimum. Natural water supplies are protected by systematically treating industrial water so it can be reused. What’s more, the carbon footprint of recycled raw materials is much better than that of primary raw materials. Copper, aluminium and iron, for example, can be recovered from waste electrical and electronic equipment. Even plastics and paper can be recycled up to seven times. Consumers, recycling companies and politicians, however, must all step up to the mark if the most is to be made of this sustainable source of raw materials.

REMONDIS is calling for a three-pronged approach to create a basis for a future-oriented raw material strategy for Germany and the EU and by doing so help the European recycling sector to become one of the global industry leaders.

This approach includes
1. An amended Ecodesign Directive that makes it obligatory for producers all around the world to consider the recyclability of their products while they are actually being designed and developed so that preferably all of the raw materials can be recovered for reuse

2. Considerably increasing the amount of investments made in sorting, recycling and raw material quality.
REMONDIS has launched its own raw material initiative in response to this situation. At present, the company is investing in a number of new facilities, including a new plant for recycling polystyrene and other plastics at its Lippe Plant. This new facility, which is due to be commissioned by the end of 2018 at the very latest, will be able to handle 20,000 tonnes of plastics a year, the majority of which will come from WEEE recycling processes. As far as organic waste is concerned, REMONDIS is currently investing in seven modern digester facilities to generate biogas that can then be transformed into electricity. Besides the plants in Singen, Frankfurt and Osnabrück, to name just a few, a new biogas plant is also being built at the Lippe Plant in Lünen. This will be accepting waste collected from household organic waste bins in the District of Unna from 2019 onwards. This material will be transformed into methane in the digester and then used to generate renewable and carbon-neutral electricity, which will be fed into the national grid.

3. A system of incentives to increase the use of recycled raw materials
Incentives need to be introduced to encourage the manufacturing industry to use recycled raw materials in their production processes. It is up to the politicians to decide what form such incentives should take, for example tax benefits for businesses using recycled raw materials or some other kind of control measure. They are, however, essential if the Paris climate goals are to be reached as all recycled raw materials are better for the climate than their primary counterparts. The target here must be, therefore, to have increased the rate of recycled raw materials used by industrial businesses from the current 14% to 70% within the next 10 years so that Germany does not lose its status as one of the leading industrial nations – and so that Earth Overshoot Day finally falls on the day it should: on 31 December.

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