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19th February 2020
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Closing the loop

Posted 23/01/2013 by sevans

Recycling rates across Europe and much of the developed world may be on the rise, but it would appear that we are still not doing enough to ‘make do and mend’ or re-use the majority of the materials that we routinely consume and throw away. A report for the UK parliament this month estimates that UK industry and business could be rejecting valuable raw materials worth £700m by failing to capitalise on the potential of recycled materials. And even as supplies of precious metals and other valuable commodities decline, we continue to use and discard them regardless of the fact that inevitably there will come a time when they will run out.

‘Although recycling rates across Europe have quadrupled in England over the past decade, we are a long way from achieving a zero-waste economy and a change of mindset is called for,’ according to Andrew Furlong, director of policy at the Institution of Chemical Engineers (IChemE), one of the contributors to the report Maximising the value of recycled materials, which calls for a switch to a so-called ‘closed loop economy’ in which non-biological materials such as metals are never discarded and biological materials are routinely recovered and used again. 

An alternative solution, of course, is that we should all stop buying so much, or alternatively stop throwing so much of it away. But world economies, according to the same economists who failed to prevent us from the current economic crisis, depend on growth, without which they predict that we are all doomed to even greater financial turmoil.

One wonders what our ancestors might have made of all of this. It is not just the amount of waste that we generate that’s changed, after all, but also what we buy. ‘Things aren’t built like they used to be’ precisely because we often no longer need – or want – them to last. But if consumerism is not going to go away, it is clear that we will all need to find a way to close the loop somehow.

Cath O’Driscoll – Deputy editor

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