Nav: Home

Sustainable management of secondary raw materials

February 14, 2013

Non-renewable raw materials such as copper and gold originate in many cases in developing countries. The availability of many metals, for example rare earth elements, is becoming noticeably more critical. Therefore, efficient management of these raw materials is more important than ever. The recycling of discarded consumer goods can make a big contribution; much of this recycling involves electronic devices and household equipment.

e-waste as key economic factor

In developing countries, the recovery of raw materials is mainly carried out by thousands of uncontrolled workers in what is referred to as the "informal" sector. This involves numerous risks, such as environmental pollution, health hazards and the cross-contamination of hazardous substances. In general there is a lack of quality and sustainability standards. A study recently carried out in New Delhi showed that the recycling of plastics is an important economic activity, which in this city alone employs between 20,000 and 25,000 people in more than 7,000 small businesses. The analysis also showed that the lead content in recycled plastics, which can for example be used to produce children's toys and crockery, is sometimes significantly above the prescribed European limit. Consequently, as part of the new collaboration between SECO and Empa, an international process is being launched to develop new quality and sustainability standards for secondary raw materials.

The success story continues ...

SECO and Empa have been cooperating successfully since 2003 in the area of e-waste. As part of the "Swiss e-Waste Program", they have supported India, China, South Africa as well as Columbia and Peru in their efforts to improve their e-waste management systems. Meanwhile, appropriate regulations have been enacted in virtually every partner country. In Peru and Columbia, it has also been possible to agree on guidelines, based on the Swiss model, relating to advanced disposal fees.

These results have led to the development of a comprehensive approach in the form the "Sustainable Recycling Industries" follow-up program. The target is to achieve the sustainable recovery of raw materials, so-called secondary raw materials, and to make them available for the international market. The new program focused on three main areas:
  • Improvement of basic data for assessing the quality of secondary raw materials: In order to enable the assessment of the use of secondary raw materials in terms of their environmental and social soundness, it is necessary to assess their whole life-cycle - an eco-balance. However, there is often a lack of data about the various manufacturing activities in developing countries. Local or regional life cycle inventories could address this problem. This also meets the needs of consumers and companies in Switzerland who are increasingly demanding the sustainability of a product's entire life cycle. Empa and the "ecoinvent" center are developing regional centers for the collection of data in India, South Africa, Egypt and Brazil.

  • Support for pilot projects for improving recycling chains: The program is working together with private and public institutions in Ghana, South Africa, Egypt, Columbia, Peru and India. Pilot projects are being supported jointly so that best practices and recycling standards can be introduced via technological collaboration. With this approach, it is planned to achieve a market-oriented disposal of discarded consumer goods and the recycling of secondary raw materials as well as their subsequent reintroduction into global raw material markets.

  • Introduction of sustainability criteria for non-renewable secondary raw materials: The topic of raw material recovery from consumer waste is currently being discussed by various bodies across the world. The new program will enrich these discussions with tangible results and practical experiences from the pilot projects and the regional centers for life cycle inventories. A multi-stakeholder platform will be formed in order to develop sustainability guidelines for non-renewable secondary raw materials.
-end-


Swiss Federal Laboratories for Materials Science and Technology (EMPA)

Related Sustainability Articles:

Cities provide paths from poverty to sustainability
Understanding how cities develop at the neighborhood level is key to promoting equitable, sustainable urbanization.
Improving the sustainability of US cities - new report
A new report from the National Academies of Sciences, Engineering, and Medicine offers a road map and recommendations to help US cities work toward sustainability, measurably improving their residents' economic, social, and environmental well-being.
Two tales of a city to understand sustainability
Just as there are two sides to every story, sustainability challenges have at least two stories to reach every solution.
Global sustainability projects offer hope for the future
Global examples of sustainability projects, which offer a positive future for the environment, have been identified by an international group of researchers including Professor Martin Solan from the University of Southampton.
Sustainability projects offer potential seeds for a more just future
It is rare to hear environmental scientists sounding positive about the future.
Sustainability criteria for transport biofuels need improvements
In its Renewable Energy Directive, the European Union has set a 10 percent goal for the use of renewable energy in transport by 2020.
Like to get more bang for your sustainability-boosting buck? Here's how
Researchers at the University of Minnesota and University of Michigan have developed a method for assessing and comparing the various costs and benefits of green products -- making it possible for purchasers to get the most environmental bang for their sustainability-investment buck.
Economic concerns drive sustainability in American cities and towns
While environmental issues are often cited as a major factor in cities and towns in pursuing sustainability, a new study shows that economic concerns can be just as important to local governments in adopting concrete sustainability plans.
Sustainability management: Legitimacy is more important than profit for large companies
The driving force behind sustainability management activities of large companies is mainly the pursuit of social acceptance.
One Ecosystem Journal: Innovation in ecology and sustainability research publishing
Focused on the fields of ecology and sustainability, One Ecosystem is an innovative open access scholarly journal that goes beyond the conventional research article publication.

Related Sustainability Reading:

Sustainability Principles and Practice
by Margaret Robertson (Author)

Sustainability: A Bedford Spotlight Reader
by Christian R. Weisser (Author)

Sustainability: A Reader for Writers
by Carl Herndl (Author)

Sustainability (MIT Press Essential Knowledge series)
by Kent E. Portney (Author)

Sustainability: A History
by Jeremy L. Caradonna (Author)

Nonprofit Sustainability: Making Strategic Decisions for Financial Viability
by Jeanne Bell (Author), Jan Masaoka (Author), Steve Zimmerman (Author)

Environmental Engineering: Fundamentals, Sustainability, Design
by James R. Mihelcic (Author), Julie B. Zimmerman (Author)

Pursuing Sustainability: A Guide to the Science and Practice
by Pamela Matson (Author), William C. Clark (Author), Krister Andersson (Author)

Systems thinking: Understanding sustainability
by The Open University

The Sustainability Mindset: Using the Matrix Map to Make Strategic Decisions
by Steve Zimmerman (Author), Jeanne Bell (Author)

Best Science Podcasts 2018

We have hand picked the best science podcasts for 2018. Sit back and enjoy new science podcasts updated daily from your favorite science news services and scientists.
Now Playing: TED Radio Hour

Hacking The Law
We have a vision of justice as blind, impartial, and fair — but in reality, the law often fails those who need it most. This hour, TED speakers explore radical ways to change the legal system. Guests include lawyer and social justice advocate Robin Steinberg, animal rights lawyer Steven Wise, political activist Brett Hennig, and lawyer and social entrepreneur Vivek Maru.
Now Playing: Science for the People

#495 Earth Science in Space
Some worlds are made of sand. Some are made of water. Some are even made of salt. In science fiction and fantasy, planet can be made of whatever you want. But what does that mean for how the planets themselves work? When in doubt, throw an asteroid at it. This is a live show recorded at the 2018 Dragon Con in Atlanta Georgia. Featuring Travor Valle, Mika McKinnon, David Moscato, Scott Harris, and moderated by our own Bethany Brookshire. Note: The sound isn't as good as we'd hoped but we love the guests and the conversation and we wanted to...