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Factor X: Re-source—Designing the Recycling Society explores the role of recycling in efforts to achieve the sustainable world envisioned in the Federal Environment Ministry’s Resource Efficiency Programme, known as ProgRess. The chapters build a roadmap to a Recycling Society in which the decoupling of resource consumption and economic growth is accomplished.



Sustainable Use of Natural Resources: A Global Challenge


Chapter 1. Global Material Flows and Their Environmental Impacts: An Overview

Since several decades, material flows are increasing globally and – in parallel – are increasingly discussed in the environmental domain of science and policy.
The concept of material flows is presented and discussed with regard to its origins and the methodologies used to analyse and model resource and material flows through economies, and societies are presented.
Furthermore, the resource flows between countries – i.e. trade – for selected commodities are presented.
Next, the issues of metrics and indicators – i.e. what to measure – are addressed, and data sources are briefly identified.
The material “burden” of countries, regions and products is characterized regarding environmental impacts from resource use and downstream flows.
Finally, some perspectives on the overall sustainability of resource use are presented.
Uwe R. Fritsche

Chapter 2. Increased Resource Efficiency: The Key Issue for Ecology and the Economy

We stand at the beginning of a century of ecology, in which only those economies, businesses and societies will succeed that deal efficiently with natural assets. The question arises, whether this process is today created democratically or whether it will have to be enforced in the future as an unavoidable necessity accompanied by far-reaching cuts. The environment-compatible treatment of materials and raw materials is becoming a key issue for the economy and employment. An efficiency revolution is necessary. An efficiency revolution is, however, much more than uncoupling growth in raw material use from national product. The aim is a reduction in consumption in absolute terms. From this, new competitive advantages will arise, since reductions in costs can result even with increasing energy, material and raw material productivity.
Michael Müller

Chapter 3. Economic Growth and Sustainable Development

The ongoing climate and resource and financial crises underscore the failure of a prosperity model based on growth and dependency on consumption. No ecological uncoupling of economic growth measured in money is in sight. In an expanding economy, “rebound effects” wipe out advances in dematerialisation or ecologisation as result of growing demand. Furthermore, an important finding of the so-called Science of Happiness postulates that once a certain level has been reached, an increase in monetary or material wealth no longer contributes to subjective well-being. It is time to take stock of things: In place of expansive “business-as-usual” policies, it might be worth taking a look at the concept of postgrowth economics, which can actually be sustainable in the long term – albeit of modest dimensions.
Niko Paech

Chapter 4. Economic Growth and Resource Use

Economic growth goes hand in hand with resource use growth – a correlation that seems inescapable for all of humanity. These dynamics are explored in this chapter using oil as an example. In specific regions relative decoupling has proven possible, that is, to slow the rate of resource use growth to the point where it is lower than the economic growth rate. So far, however, there are no signs that absolute decoupling, that is, economic growth without additional resource use, will take hold at any time in the foreseeable future on the global level, as the quickening pace of climate change, as well as the recent energy crisis, clearly shows. Financial markets play an ambivalent role in that they promote short-term orientation on economic growth and contribute to bubbles of raw-material prices, but it is exactly their excesses that draw attention to resource scarcity. In a finite world, resource availability will inevitably run up against absolute limits, which in turn entail absolute decoupling of economic growth from resource use, so to say a dematerialization of economic growth. The energy revolution called for by the IEA illustrates the unprecedented resource productivity increase and technological strides that would be necessary to achieve the aforementioned goals. The fact that such efficiency strategies could potentially fail calls into question the viability of the economic growth paradigm.
Andreas Breitenfellner

Chapter 5. Resource Protection Policy: An Opinion from the NGO Perspective

The industrial societies of the world have been exploiting the existing natural resources to a much greater extent than would be justifiable. This will not only have disastrous consequences for the global climate because resource exploitation means that climate change is inevitably accelerated by an additional emission of carbon into the atmosphere. Furthermore, there will be dramatic effects on the lifestyle of future generations. As a result of resource protection policy, the importance of sustainable development will take on a new shape. After almost 25 years of sustainability policy acting with kid gloves, as it were, it will also be associated with painful social and economic changes. Resource protection policy will neither prevent high technology, nor will it curtail the freedom of individuals. However, as a result of such policy, the zero carbon society, the recycling society and other political concepts that have remained unsuccessful so far will become standard ones. Successful resource protection policy will reduce the resource consumption by industrial societies by 90 % within 40 years. It will require an immense leap forward (“leapfrogging”) in development on a global level.
Olaf Tschimpke, Benjamin Bongardt

Chapter 6. Legislation on the Protection of Natural Resources: Basic Considerations and Legal Perspectives

Legal regulation may support the protection of resources. The development of resource protection law is currently in flux. Overall, the issue has been neglected to date. Some starting points do, however, exist in the (German) legal system. It is now important for the law to reflect the increased importance of resource protection. To address this, some basic terms and their interrelations must first be clarified. Ulrich Smeddinck’s contribution then moves on to legal innovations and projects
Ulrich Smeddinck

Securing a Sustainable Supply of Raw Materials


Chapter 7. An International Metal Covenant: A Step Towards Global Sustainable Resource Management

This chapter addresses material leakage as a major problem of international open markets for used goods, in particular for used vehicles. It develops elements of an international metal covenant that should allow for a more sustainable management of global material flows in that area. The arguments in favour of such a proposal are as follows: Any regulation should actively seek for industry participation, taking advantage of business interest in supplying a sufficient amount of materials while lowering materials cost. It should also address public issues such as sustainability of recycling and waste. A first section analyses contracts as a tool to overcome knowledge problems that occur when many actors are involved. A second short section gives empirical evidence for material leakage in the case of used vehicles from Germany. A third section develops elements of an international metal covenant. A fourth section analyses potential impacts and discusses legal and institutional issues. Finally, some conclusions are drawn.
Henning Wilts, Raimund Bleischwitz

Chapter 8. The Austrian Minerals Plan

In the past decade, remarkable distortions occurred in supplying economy with internationally tradeable minerals (ores, industrial minerals, energy resources). Yet, the restricted availability connected with temporarily high prices of minerals is not due to an exhaustion of the resources but due to the enormous demand of China for minerals. Yet, also as to construction resources (sand and gravel, crushed rock) which are only regionally tradeable supply, bottlenecks have been already discovered because it is becoming more and more difficult to have access to these mineral deposits.
The Austrian Minerals Plan as an integrating component of the Austrian minerals policy is to contribute to safeguarding the mineral deposits in the country and to make them accessible also in future. In this present chapter, the individual steps beginning with the systematic registration of all mineral deposits, their evaluation and potential spatial resistances are described. Conflict-free areas of mineral resources are finally located in an iterative process and in accordance with the possibilities of regional planning of the Federal provinces shown as resource safeguarding areas and thus accordingly protected. The Austrian Minerals Plan is – so to speak – an intergeneration contract.
Leopold Weber

Sustainable Production and Consumption


Chapter 9. Materials Efficiency in Product Design and Manufacturing

Material efficiency is, in simple words, the amount of material in a final product in proportion to the amount of material needed for its manufacturing. Statistical data prove that material costs account for the greatest share of the cost structure in manufacturing industry, with an annually increasing tendency. Hence, savings in the field of materials will significantly strengthen the competitiveness of enterprises. Therefore, the Materials Efficiency Impulse Programme is designed to help enterprises in identifying and developing their saving potentials in product design and manufacturing. Practical approaches to reducing material costs and representative examples from different industry branches are shown.
Mario Schneider, Volker Härtwig, Julia Kaltschew, Yvonne Langer, Kristin Prietzel

Further Development of a Sound Waste Management


Chapter 10. Strategies to Increase Resource Efficiency

Recently, the attention of economists, politicians and researchers has been focussed not only on the widely discussed subject of exhaustible energy resources. Rather, the scarcity of metallic and mineral raw materials alike has increasingly received attention. On principle, the demand to increase resource and material efficiency may be met at all levels of the value chain. A systematic analysis will identify possible approaches at the stages of mining of raw materials and the production of primary products, whose potential to save materials is, however, limited. The same applies to the levels of the production of goods, the use of goods and that of waste management. These latter stages of the value chain have a far greater impact. However, concrete measures such as material-efficient design, optimized production processes, leasing models or urban mining require a harmonized and integrated policy, if possible on an international level, and noticeable changes in the behaviour of users.
Martin Faulstich, Markus Köglmeier, Anna Leipprand, Mario Mocker

Chapter 11. Developing Waste Management into an Element of Resource-Efficient Material Flow Management

Experts have talked about the need to move away from managing waste towards managing material flows for a long time. It is time to establish a comprehensive resource management. Doing so, it is also necessary to develop waste prevention strategies. Waste prevention strategies must address the fundamental link between production, consumption and waste generation. These are strategies that address the diversity of material flows, imports and exports; the acceleration of material throughputs; and the development of industrial structures in the face of changing prices for raw materials and strategies that consider the exchange of materials between developed and developing countries and the divergence between labour costs and raw material costs. The move from waste management towards material flow management will not happen automatically. It means in the long term that the current waste legislation must be replaced or absorbed by a law governing materials.
Michael Angrick

Taking Into Account the Whole Life Cycle: Three Examples

Chapter 12. Resource-Conserving Use of the Stock of Residential Buildings to Reduce Absolute Demand in the “Construction and Housing” Area of Need

An extension in the useful life of products leads in many consumption areas to improved resource efficiency. This strategic approach of extended useful life runs counter, however, to established consumer behaviour in some areas. In the construction and housing area of need, there are significant resource-conserving potentials: As a rule, housing need can be satisfied with greater resource efficiency through using the housing stock instead of building new houses. This chapter describes the general societal conditions and political measures, with the aid of which potentials for savings in raw materials, land and CO2 emissions can be exploited in Germany. The author also advocates a strategic “construction and housing” hierarchy, analogous to the so-called waste hierarchy (“reduce, reuse, recycle”) or the strategic orientation discussed in traffic policy (“avoid, shift and shape in an environment-compatible manner”), which should be considered in decision-making processes.
Julia Verlinden

Chapter 13. Anthropogenic Stock as a Source of Raw Materials: Optimized Utilization of Recycled Building Materials to Conserve Resources

Owing to the valuable materials contained in existing buildings and infrastructure installations, these represent an enormous source of raw materials for future generations. In residential buildings alone, the “anthropogenic stock” has meanwhile reached an order of magnitude of almost ten billion tons. Of these, bricks and concrete represent the major part. In contrast, the quantity of construction and demolition debris generated per year amounts to about 50 million tons. Of these, however, only a minor share is recovered by means of high-quality recycling and reused in building construction as concrete aggregate, thus replacing natural gravel. Given the demographic development, continued internal migration and a foreseeable change in housing requirements, demolition and refurbishment will result in a significant increase in the quantities of construction and demolition debris generated in many regions of Germany. It will be necessary to return these wastes to substance cycles that are of the highest possible quality. Therefore, issues to be clarified will include the development of the respective regional building material requirements and quantities of construction and demolition debris generated, potential obstacles to the use of resource-saving recycled concrete, and how initial flagship projects were able to bring about an increase in the acceptance and use of recycled concrete in a rather practical way.
Hermann Keßler, Florian Knappe

Chapter 14. The Importance of Rare Metals for Emerging Technologies

Today we are using an enormous number of materials in an unknown variety of functionalities. Especially rare metals frequently offer essential physical and chemical properties for a variety of end-use applications. These strategic elements are only partly substitutable, and possible substitutes are very often rare metals themselves. But also dissipation is a common phenomenon for rare metals as they are often used in minor contents with no recycling potential. Thinking in functionalities rather than single technologies could therefore provide better solutions for the avoidance of shortfalls by using technologies that provide the same functionality. In this chapter, the functionality of potential rare metals is described for a selection of emerging end-use sectors.
Armin Reller, Volker Zepf, Benjamin Achzet

Chapter 15. Recycling of Precious and Special Metals

The use of special and precious metals has accelerated significantly over the past 30 years, and their sufficient future availability is crucial for clean technologies and other high-tech equipment. Recycling contributes to secure access to these metals, conserve metal resources, mitigate potential temporary scarcities, and reduce the climate impact of metal production. While today efficient metallurgical processes exist to recover base and precious metals, the recovery of many special metals still needs to be improved. An eco-efficient recycling of technology metals from complex products requires high-tech processes, making use of specialisation, economies of scale, and sophisticated metallurgical flowsheets. The actual achievable recycling rates thereby depend on the set-up of the entire recycling chain. Decisive factors are – in addition to the applied technologies – stakeholder cooperation and the management of interfaces.
The biggest challenge however is to secure that end-of-life products are entering into the most appropriate recycling pathways. Today, a large share of old consumer goods is – partly illegal – traded across the globe and escapes recycling or ends up in backyard recycling operations with low recovery rates and dramatic impacts on health and environment. This chapter provides an overview on the recycling of technology metals, and it elaborates the factors impacting success and shows that legislation can be supportive but that consequent enforcement and new business models are essential to close the loop for consumer products.
Christian Hagelüken

Chapter 16. Transboundary Shipment of Electronic Scrap

The volume of e-waste being generated is growing rapidly, due to the wide use of this equipment, both in developed countries and in developing countries. Significant amounts of used electrical and electronic goods are exported from Europe to developing countries. Condition and quality of the exported used electronics, however, suggest that a significant proportion of the exported equipment can be expected to be non- or not completely functioning.
A broad range of different types of exporters can be identified. It is characterised at one end by professional remarketing enterprises, and at the other end of the range one can find so-called waste tourists. These are people from the countries of destination who come to Germany and acquire/collect equipment for one or two overseas containers.
Based on the EU Waste Shipment Regulation, transfrontier shipments of e-waste are subject either to the procedure of prior written notification and consent by the competent authority or to general information requirements.
Knut Sander, Joachim Wuttke

Chapter 17. The Limited Resources of Phosphorus and How to Close the Phosphorus Cycle

Phosphorus (P) is one of the elements of life and can neither be substituted nor synthesised. Despite a relatively high phosphorus content of 0.1 % in the earth’s crust, the availability of this key element in fertilisers is limited. Approximately 90 % of all the mined phosphorus is used for food production. Therefore, limited availability can lead us to scarcity within decades, considering the increasing demand for food of a growing population around the globe. To prevent the looming crisis, ecological, economical, political and even social aspects have to be considered. New techniques for the recovery of phosphorus from waste have been in focus of research and development, not only since the spiking prices for phosphorus in 2008. Germany needs to import more than 100,000 metric tons of phosphorus annually, due to a lack of own natural deposits. Therefore, the German government launched a funding programme to promote the research and development, as well as the large-scale implementation of new techniques in the field of nutrient recovery, especially phosphorus. Several political instruments are currently in discussion to promote the development and implementation of phosphorus recycling in Germany. Currently, a strategy for the sustainable use of phosphorus is under discussion. The implementation of suggested measures will contribute to the conservation of natural resources by closing the modern phosphorus cycle.
Christian Kabbe

Concluding Chapter


Chapter 18. About the Need of Resource Efficiency Programmes: The Editors’ View

The German Resource Efficiency Programme is shaped by a total of four guiding principles:
  • Joining ecological necessities with economic opportunities, innovation support and social responsibility.
  • Viewing global responsibility as a key focus of German resource policy.
  • Gradually making economic and production practices in Germany less dependent on primary resources, developing and expanding closed cycle management.
  • Sustainable resource use will be ensured in the longer term through orientation towards qualitative growth and the dematerialization of lifestyles and production methods.
Michael Angrick, Andreas Burger, Harry Lehmann


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