Waste Prevention vs. Recycling – Analyzing Material Flow Accounts

Why should we even bother about recycling, when we could prevent waste in the first place? Well, according to the following study, published in May 2011, forget that question. Turn it around. We shouldn’t even bother about waste prevention.

Seeking a European Resource Efficiency Framework

In an attempt to estimate the impact of policy efforts, the European Comission ordered several studies, aiming at the development of a frameweork contract for resource efficieny. The most interesting of all these studies is the analysis of the Key Contributions to Resource Efficiency. Three parties were involved in this study: two eco consulting agencies, Paris based bio IS and vito from Belgium, and one academic institute from Austria, Social Ecology Vienna. This reports findings are elaborate executive summary (PDF).

Recycling, Waste Prevention or better Product Design?

Based on Material Flow Accounts and waste statistics, the following materials were subject to evaluation: biomass, minerals, metals and plastics. Focusing on non-energy materials, there was no fuel involved. Now, looking at these materials, which is the most relevant path to improving their efficiency? Waste prevention and product design seem promising. Indeed, they are. Waste prevention may save 8-18% of the total material consumption in the future. Scaling things down to a single product, up to 80% of a product’s environmental impact may be prevented through a well-thought ecodesign. Citing the 2007 study on resource productivity and competetiveness (PDF), the authors state that a compact car like the VW Golf could save as little as 84% of the material involved in its production! In total, the report estimates a potential reduction in non-energy material consumption of 15-28% .

Most Effective at present: Recycling

However, this saving material by improving product design and by waste reduction is still up in the air. It is future potential. At present, things look different: 75% of the savings in material consumption are due to recycling measures.

Article image based on this photo by epsos



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