Rain is a blessing!

Wrong. It is leading to an ever growing number of people being up to their necks in water. Quite literally or because they have lost everything they own. The battle against climate change has been going on for a long while now. Here and everywhere else in the world.

Tackling climate change on a global level

The circular economy’s efforts to curb climate change influence activities all around the world. Besides having a knock-on effect (i.e. other nations gradually adopting new technologies), there is a second important aspect here. Being an international company with around 900 business locations in over 30 countries, we are in a position to actively drive forward this transfer of technology ourselves and promote a holistic approach to tackling climate change. Establishing climate-compatible, closed-loop technologies is a far more dynamic process than waiting for the knock-on effect to take hold, as this effect depends on the political direction and other upstream processes in the different countries. These often slow down the development – something we simply cannot afford in our fight against climate change. We need as much climate action as possible, we need it in as many countries as possible and we need everything to happen as quickly as possible. For this reason alone, it would be irresponsible to focus entirely on the energy transition as being the solution. According to calculations published by the Ellen MacArthur Foundation, switching to renewable energy will only reduce global CO2 emissions by 55%.1 This is most certainly not enough. If we are to have a realistic chance of limiting global warming to 2°C – or even better 1.5°C – then we must not only switch over from fossil fuels to renewable energy but also from virgin raw materials to recycled raw materials.

Many countries – in Europe as well – are failing to make the most of the opportunities available to them to curb climate change. Recycling rates lie below 20% in some regions.2 We must and we want to change this situation.

 

It’s well worth leading the way. For the business world, too

Again and again, people can be heard saying that stricter environmental and recycling standards will put German and European businesses at a disadvantage. In fact, the opposite is true. Using the chemicals and electronic appliance industries as examples, Anu Bradford shows in her book “The Brussels Effect” how the higher standards set by the EU have, in most cases, also become international standards.3 Europe must take on responsibility with its innovative and efficient industry and its leadership role in the area of recycling technology. It is our task to set an example and prove that it is possible to have a good life within the planetary boundaries. Indeed, in view of the fact that the often invoked economic disadvantages for businesses do not actually exist, it is all the more important to meet this responsibility. The circular economy is doing just this and believes firmly in the knock-on effect of company strategies oriented towards sustainability. Politicians should orient themselves in this direction as well.

Our understanding of a holistic approach: to recycle everything possible

Achieving as much climate action as possible not only needs everyone to join in but also for everyone to do their very best. In our case, this means continuously investing in new recycling technologies in order to recover more and more recyclable materials as well as to separate them even more cleanly from each other. Just one example of this is our state-of-the-art sorting facility in Erftstadt, where plastics can be removed from mixed volumes of waste and separated according to individual material specifications. However, we not only maximise climate action potential by going deeper into specific areas but also by widening the scope of our activities. We make the most of synergies within REMONDIS’ range of operations to unite waste management and production. Transforming waste containing aluminium into a sodium aluminate that can be used as a climate and resource-friendly means to treat wastewater is just one example of many. Indeed, some of the products we make help to reduce carbon emissions in areas that are not immediately associated with the circular economy. The compost we produce from biomass, for example, reduces the amount of turf used by gardening and agricultural businesses. This, in turn, means less turf has to be removed from the countryside – helping to maintain moors which are such important carbon stores. 

Compost made from biomass not only helps reduce CO2 emissions. It also increases the ability of soils to store water fivefold – a valuable property with climate change causing ever more periods of drought.

 

The energy transition needs large volumes of raw materials to build wind turbines, solar power plants, electricity storage units etc. If we wish to prevent this high consumption of resources from cannibalising some of the positive impact of the energy switch on our climate, then we have no choice but to systematically recycle the raw materials that are being used. The energy sector, therefore, urgently needs the circular economy – which is also facing great challenges in this particular area. At present, the recycling rates of strategically important substances such as tantalum, indium and neodymium still lie below one percent.4 This highlights two issues: firstly, there is a huge potential here to help curb climate change. Secondly, it is essential that wind turbines and Co are produced so that the raw materials contained in them can actually be recovered. The key word here is ecodesign.

The importance of the circular economy for the most
powerful transformational field of all: energy

The energy transition needs large volumes of raw materials to build wind turbines, solar power plants, electricity storage units etc. If we wish to prevent this high consumption of resources from cannibalising some of the positive impact of the energy switch on our climate, then we have no choice but to systematically recycle the raw materials that are being used. The energy sector, therefore, urgently needs the circular economy – which is also facing great challenges in this particular area. At present, the recycling rates of strategically important substances such as tantalum, indium and neodymium still lie below one percent.4 This highlights two issues: firstly, there is a huge potential here to help curb climate change. Secondly, it is essential that wind turbines and Co are produced so that the raw materials contained in them can actually be recovered. The key word here is ecodesign.

We are calling on politicians to

increase and, over the medium term, harmonise EU-wide collection rates

promote the transfer of technologies and set up recycling structures in emerging countries

initiate educational programmes in countries exporting raw materials to make people less dependent on exploitative forms of labour in their local mines

prevent illegal exports of waste and, consequently, raw materials

adapt the Fertiliser Ordinance in order to recognise the contribution that compost made from organic waste makes towards curbing climate change


1 Ellen MacArthur Foundation: Completing the Picture: How the Circular Economy Tackles Climate Change, p. 14, 2019
2 sueddeutsche.de: Rumänien versinkt im Müll – und kauft Abfall aus dem Ausland [Romania is drowning in waste – and is buying in waste from abroad], 22.06.2020
3 Anu Bradford: The Brussels Effect – how the European Union rules the world, 2020
4 Faulstich: Circular Economy – Herausforderungen und Perspektiven [Circular Economy – Challenges & Prospects]. In: Nachhaltige Industrie [Sustainable Industry] 2020, pp. 8 & 13, 2020
Hagelüken: Business as unusual – Anforderungen an eine Kreislaufwirtschaft von Lithium-Ionen-Batterien [Business as Unusual – Requirements for an Effective Circular Economy for Lithium Ion Batteries], p. 66, 2021


REMONDIS SE & Co. KG