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Zero Waste – when recycling is not enough

Zero waste- when recycling is not enough.

Recycling aluminum cans requires 5% of the energy and material flow, rather than the energy and material flow required to produce cans from raw materials. Recycling is great! It keeps materials in use, reduces the need to extract and produce new materials, and delays material wasted time. Therefore, it should be encouraged and supported... But unfortunately, this is far from sufficient to achieve sustainability.

Sustainability is about using current resources in a way that we can pass them on to future generations; it is about protecting ecological capital.

According to Eurostat, 75% of Europeans believe that separating garbage at home is their biggest contribution to climate change. Indeed, separation at the source can increase the recovery rate. However, real recycling-turning bottles into new bottles-rarely happens. In most cases, because the new material loses its purity compared to the old product, the material will be downgraded and recycled. In addition, recycling is usually a rather dirty process.

More recycling does not always mean more sustainability or less emissions. In Europe, we see some confusion among policymakers and sometimes even self-styled green cities or communities because they recycle 50% or 60% of waste. This is misleading. For example, according to Eurostat, Denmark recycles 41%, while the Czech Republic recycles 3% of municipal waste. At first glance, people would think that Denmark is more sustainable than the Czech Republic because they recycle more. However, if we look at the absolute amount of waste, we will find that Denmark’s high recycling rate still has a residual waste ratio of 472 kg/person/year (59% of the total 801 kg of waste they generate each year), while the Czech Republic only Generated 285 kg/person/year (97% of the total waste per capita of 294 kg). This means that the Czech Republic is more sustainable than Denmark in terms of material and energy flows. Therefore, sustainability is not just about recycling more, but reducing waste generation.

Europe must move from recycling to sustainable development

Europe must become a sustainable society rather than a recycling society. The latter is part of the former, but in terms of waste, reducing waste and increasing material productivity are more important than recycling.

Zero waste is not only about closing the loop, but also about making the loop smaller. The EU aims to decouple waste generation from economic growth, but this is not enough. Regardless of economic growth, resource consumption must be reduced. Learn to do more with less. In fact, if the world’s population continues to increase with a constant consumption pattern at a rate faster than we can reduce waste, then unsustainability will increase rather than decrease.

Recycling is mostly good and desirable, but it cannot be a cause of complacency. It is for these reasons that the new method of resource productivity goes beyond recycling, taking into account more indicators, and achieving sustainability: – Flanders, the leading region in Europe for recycling, has adopted a sustainable material management (SMM) strategy, The strategy looks at the entire material chain in order to better eliminate waste by including material design and productivity methods as part of waste prevention. At the same time, the OECD Environment Agency is formulating guidelines for SMM, and many OECD countries may adopt these guidelines to effectively address the issue of material sustainability. – In the Netherlands, the authorities work with companies to reduce waste at the end of the process.

Beyond recycling!

In a sustainable zero-waste society, landfill and incineration and other disposal methods have no place. Recycling will continue to exist, but where the recycling rate exceeds 50%, its limitations are beginning to emerge; they have realized that recycling alone cannot accomplish the job. They need to work on waste prevention, minimization, awareness raising, product design, proper disposal, and extension of producer responsibility to reduce their material and energy consumption without reducing their living standards.

This method may be new, but what we are actually doing is going back to some traditional usage; the design is durable (from a fashion and product point of view), easy to repair or refurbish, use non-toxic materials, easy to disassemble or tear Open, traceable, recyclable, etc... Some companies have already achieved these traditional principles of success. For decades, the British brand Vitsoe has been selling sturdy and durable design furniture and has proven that it is possible to spend less time in exchange for a longer life. One of Vitsoe's motto is "We think recycling is a failure". It now appears that as materials become scarcer and difficult to recycle, governments and organizations have begun to look beyond recycling.

Zero waste is a process aimed at phasing out the most obvious sign of inefficiency by increasing resource productivity: waste!

More recycling does not always mean more sustainability or less emissions.

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