Published on 20. October 2022
Updated on 25. January 2023
Design for Recycling
Reading time: 3 Minutes, 39 Seconds
We all know that our resources are finite, and time is increasingly pressing. We are using up our earth faster than it can regenerate. All raw materials – such as oil, sand, ores – are found on our planet only in limited quantities. This year, Earth Overshoot Day fell on 28 July. Worldwide, all natural resources are depleted for the current year. Only a careful and fairer use of the precious resources of our earth can help to protect the environment in a sustainable way. It requires cooperation along the entire value chain to effectively achieve climate protection. Only together can we tackle the problem and do our part for a functioning circular economy.
Not enough people pay attention to the conscious choice of sustainable products when shopping. Therefore, there is often much more waste than is necessary. The economy is, in a way, the main driver of excessive waste generation, because the production and consumption of new products also creates a lot of waste. In addition to biowaste, bulky waste and other residual waste, a large part of the waste we generate consists of packaging. These include recyclables such as glass, plastic, paper, aluminum, tinplate, composites, steel, but also wood and other packaging materials. Through recycling, these valuable materials are re-introduced into the economic cycle and made usable again. Either by reusing the spent products in their originally used form or by shredding the material that makes up the waste product and converting it into a new product. True to the motto: “Out of old comes new.”
First and foremost, the rule of thumb is: less waste benefits the environment, protects people and saves resources. This is because accumulated waste causes pollutants to enter the soil and give rise to gases that are harmful to the climate. Modern waste management does everything it can to use valuable raw materials and energy efficiently. The inverted pyramid of principles, which emerged from the EU framework directives, also provides for the avoidance of waste at its core – as little waste as possible should be generated. Not producing waste is not always possible, so alternative solutions are needed. Wherever possible, manufacturers should give preference to materials that can be recycled. Only in the next step can these then be reprocessed. The remaining non-recyclable materials are either “recycled”, e.g. in the sense of energy generation, or disposed of in landfills only in the final step. In the worst case, this in turn means that the waste ends up in the oceans.
Recycling is without alternative and pollutes the earth less than simple disposal. Nevertheless, opponents of recycling often use the argument that a lot of energy is also required in the recycling process. This argument is not untrue, because modern technology, especially with a view to the future and an increasingly digitalized world, will demand a lot of energy. But the balance must be weighed up: Recycling reduces the amount of energy needed for products, because secondary production uses less energy on average than producing it from scratch. Ultimately, greenhouse gases are saved, as energy is wasted in primary production for the extraction and purification of the raw materials alone. Recycling prevents the need to mine more of our valuable raw materials for new products. And the slower we deplete our resources, the longer they will be available for future generations.
Recycling recyclables leads to saving the planet. This approach can only succeed if all actors are involved in the process. It also requires further development, research, and education. In general, a change of perspective towards more conscious buying behavior must take place in society. When buying, we should more often question whether there are not more sustainable alternatives, because even the smallest, individual contribution is part of something big. Framework conditions on the part of politics are set by the Packaging Act introduced in Germany on 1 January 2019 or also the fundamental focus on circular economy developments in the coalition agreement. The aim is to achieve significantly higher recycling rates for plastic packaging, moving away from a resource-intensive to a low-carbon economy. The perfect interaction in the fight against the shortage of resources now requires optimization approaches through innovative packaging solutions from the manufacturing industry and conscious purchasing and separating behavior on the part of consumers.
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