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Zero Waste to reduce EU dependency on materials

Zero waste to reduce the EU’s dependence on materials

The ingenuity of minimizing waste and recycling materials is that we can recycle materials and we can use them again without having to import them from a distance at a higher price.

The world’s resources are not only limited; they are also becoming scarcer, making it more difficult, polluting, and expensive to mine. In absolute terms, Europe is using more and more resources. For example, the use of resources in the 12 EU countries increased by 34% from 2000 to 2007. This will continue to have considerable environmental and economic consequences. Of the 8.2 billion tons of materials used in E-27 in 2007, minerals and metals accounted for more than half, while fossil fuels and biomass each accounted for about a quarter. In the figure below, we can see the EU's dependence on metal imports (source European Economic Area).

For most metals, the EU is 100% dependent on imports. At the same time, what we are seeing is that in the European Union, 50% of recyclable municipal waste is landfilled or incinerated, and the legal and illegal exports of metals and electronic products to be recycled-mainly degraded recycling-have increased. From a strategic point of view-not to mention environmental and economic considerations-this is simply stupid.

The recycling industry in Europe has an estimated turnover of 24 billion Euros and employs approximately 500,000 people. Therefore, the EU owns 50% of the world's recycling industry. However, when no one on earth needs more resources than the EU, the EU allows most of the e-waste to be shipped abroad for low-quality recycling.

The EU has been enacting legislation to try to divert this material outflow to European recycling plants. So far, the directive on electrical and electronic equipment waste requires each member country to collect 4 kg per capita per year, but countries such as Belgium or Germany are now far above this target, while other countries are far below this target. The revision of WEEE aims to collect 65% of WEEE produced by 2016. This is a very necessary improvement that can create jobs and solids recycling industries in Europe, reducing the need to extract, process and transport the materials we need.

Some companies are demonstrating that if given the opportunity, they can recycle most of the materials and create jobs and economic activity, while avoiding the additional discharge of exporting waste for processing and having to extract and manufacture new materials. For example, Umicore is one of the leading companies in the WEEE recycling field in Europe and shows a constantly changing trend; as a Belgian mining company with a poor environmental record, they understand that the future focus is not to extract materials from the earth, but to extract materials from the past. Extract materials from waste production equipment. Thanks to this, Umicore has not only successfully become the world's leading recycler, but also successfully fulfilled its environmental responsibility.

Umicore processed 300,000 tons of electrical and electronic waste, of which only 15.000 tons became waste; that is, 95% of the waste was recycled. Although there are some rare earths in small devices such as mobile phones that cannot be recycled at present, the fact is that the recycling rate of most metals is higher than the backyard recycling rate-what would happen if they were exported to Europe. For example, Umicore recycles 95% to 99% of gold, but only 20% to 25% can be recycled in the backyard—a much higher impact on the environment and health.

Therefore, the loop can be closed in certain sectors of our economy, but for this, the authorities must cooperate with the right legislation and market drivers. An efficient recycling system keeps jobs in Europe, reduces dependence on imports, reduces emissions, and reduces the environmental impact on third countries. If combined with the correct preventive tools, it will help to develop in the direction of sustainable development.

Zero waste is about reducing the use of materials, reusing them as much as possible, and recycling them as the last option. Europe cannot continue to destroy resources; eliminating waste through incineration and landfills does not make sense, but this is especially true when dealing with electrical and electronic waste.

The loop can be closed in certain sectors of our economy, but for this, the authorities must cooperate with the right legislation and market drivers.

About the latest post

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