Recycling - but done right
by tine sintermann on November 30, 2020
It is one of nature's core competences: The return of all materials into the great cycle of life - disposing of old, producing new, recycling. Cradle to Cradle (C2C) has established itself in the economy as a term for a consistent circular economy. However, humans are slow to learn how this works with their artificially produced products. Recycling is complex and expensive. And again and again it crunches in the system: Wrong production, wrong waste separation, wrong waste disposal. Much is to be done, and much is possible!
Recycling is sustainability. It means reusing and processing valuable materials such as plastic, glass or metals in order to have to mine and use as few new raw materials as possible. To create a - as long-lasting as possible - cycle of resources, production and mining in order to secure the long-term livelihood of more and more people on this planet. This requires a lot of creativity, engineering skills and above all political will. Recycling is divided into upcycling and downcycling: the former is the supreme discipline and means transforming formerly inferior disposable materials into high-quality products such as furniture, clothing or fashionable accessories. With downcycling, on the other hand, the value is lost and high-quality materials can only be processed into inferior products.
Plastic waste - a few numbers
Worldwide plastic production has increased 200 times in the last 70 years: From 1.5 million tons in the 1950s to 300 million tons. More plastics produced means fewer and fewer resources and at the same time growing mountains of waste. Worldwide, only a part of this waste is properly disposed of, and only a part of it is recycled and thus returned to the reuse cycle. In 2017, the Statistical Office of the European Union (EUROSTAT) assumed that 42% of all packaging waste will be recycled in the EU. Lithuania (74%) and Bulgaria (64%) are in the lead, with Malta (24%), France and Finland (both 27%) at the bottom of the list. But even these figures are only a part of the whole story. In Germany, where just under 50% of plastic was sent for recycling, only 13% of all materials required for plastic products were actually recycled.
Recycling starts at the beginning of a product development
It is expensive and time-consuming to recycle. A central problem for this process is right at the beginning: during production. In the manufacturing process, materials are produced that can hardly or not at all be recycled in the end. For example, different types of plastic are often processed inseparably, such as the very resistant thermosetting plastics. Even when plastics are combined with other materials, such as hardly removable labels, recycling becomes difficult. Sometimes, however, the quality is generally too poor to be recycled. It is not only environmental protection associations that are calling for clear regulations from the political side here: packaging should only be allowed to be manufactured in such a way that it can be recycled again without difficulty. The packaging law, increased recycling quotas and the EU-wide ban on certain disposable products are important further steps.
Waste separation - only really worth it!
A further central step in the recycling process is the correct separation of waste. If recyclable materials end up in the residual waste garbage can, they are incinerated, generate emissions and are lost forever as a resource. A study by the Federal Environment Agency from 2020 came to the conclusion that two thirds of the waste in the residual waste garbage can is still incorrectly disposed of: Bio-waste, recyclable materials and plastics. On average, every German disposes of 8.6 kg of plastic in the wrong way in the residual waste. Extrapolated, this amounts to about 700,000 tons of plastic that cannot be recycled. Incidentally, city dwellers are the worst waste separators: they account for 12 kg of incorrectly disposed plastic per capita.
The solution: Making recycling more efficient
In order to make recycling more efficient, i.e. to conserve resources and reduce waste mountains, commitment is needed on many fronts. Here are some approaches.
Recyclable production of plastics: Clear labeling, separable individual components and a ban on inferior, non-recyclable plastic.
Recycling at home instead of waste disposal in third countries: In 2018, Greenpeace published its report The Recycling Myth about the catastrophic effects of shipping plastic waste from rich countries to Malaysia.
Efficient recycling thanks to innovative technology: The project "Digital Solutions for Industrial Plastic Cycles" (Di-Link), funded by the German Federal Ministry of Education and Research, is an alliance of industry and science that can make recycling more efficient with the help of digital system solutions.
Products must be produced in a way that allows them to be recycled and repaired; reusable products have priority over disposable ones.
In order to not produce any more plastic waste, here at D3CO we decided to produce sustainable furniture only using natural materials and traditional ways of manufacturing. To be honest, our furniture is biodegradable and thanks to a fully toxine-free production none of our materials and furniture pieces pose a threat to the environment or own health.