For thousands of years, people have exploited the earth – mining resources, pumping oil and gas to the surface, dumping waste in landfills and polluting the atmosphere. This is unsustainable, as statistically speaking, humankind uses 1.7 earths a year. Not only is our way of life unsustainable, but the environment is unable to rectify human impacts and global warming.
Both overexploitation and pollution endanger our planet. The circular economy and recycling can help combat this.
This is because it generally takes more energy to mine resources than to reprocess used material. Recycling means fewer mines, fewer scars on the landscape and fewer polluted rivers. And people are spared the fate of losing house and home to advancing excavators.
That is why we have developed a vision – our vision: A world without waste.
Instead of throwing used things away or incinerating them, we recycle materials to meet our needs. For example, the quantity of copper mined so far in human history is sufficient to meet all demand. It is just that much of the metal is hidden away as fittings in disused buildings or in old electrical appliances gathering dust in attics and cupboards. So if we can only mobilise the copper that is already out there, then we would be able to do without mining for more.
But wait: A recycling firm that makes its money from reprocessing waste wants less waste to be generated – how does that add up?
The ALBA Group is committed to the environment and to future generations. That is why we support the waste hierarchy comprising the three R’s: reduce, reuse, recycle.
- First and foremost comes avoiding waste: What is not left over does not have to be reprocessed or, worse, destroyed by incineration. Because incineration means the irretrievable loss of valuable recyclable materials. Avoiding waste is therefore always the best way to conserve resources and protect the environment.
- Many more products can be reused or repaired to give them a second or third lease of life. Whether it is clothing, electrical appliances or furniture, what one person no longer wants may be useful to someone else.
- Only when those first two options are exhausted do we turn to recycling. Many waste materials can be processed to obtain a new resource that can then be made into the same product or something wholly different. The important point is that material is not irretrievably destroyed, but stays in the loop.
Social trends support us in working towards our mission. Society is moving towards the shared economy, where people use things without owning them. Most cars today spend most of the time parked. Sharing a car with others is a far more efficient use of the resources consumed in its manufacture. At the end of a car’s life, too, consideration has to be given to what parts can be reused or recycled. It is not always necessary to use new parts.
Living up to our vision
Even if our goal is still far away, we try each day to progress towards it. This is why the ALBA Group does not see recycling as the whole of its core business. An equally important element is consulting on how to avoid waste, or at minimum, how waste can be generated in a form that enables resources to be recovered from it:
- Recyclable plastic crates replace cardboard boxes;
- Aerated concrete blocks can be made from old material again and again if we collect it on building sites;
- Sharing economy models, for products such as baby clothing, make for more efficient resource use.
These are all examples from ALBA’s world. Because for us, what remains after production and consumption is not waste. It is a resource.
A world without waste also means that we need to develop and manufacture products and packaging in a better way, so that they are easily recycled. Ideally, they should also be made of recycled materials. After all, Germany hardly has any mineral resources of its own. That is another reason why we call waste a resource.
Products must be designed for recycling. An example is packaging for sliced cold cuts of meat: Today, this is made of many different layers and types of plastics in order to achieve the desired properties. But that makes it very difficult to separate and recycle the composite materials. Customers like such packaging to be resealable, for example. Yet perhaps we can find a solution – together with packaging manufacturers – that meets these requirements in a more environmentally friendly manner.