Manufacturers will need to consider ways of reusing and recycling products in order to alleviate ‘intense future pressure on resources’, according to the European Commission environment commissioner.
Speaking at the TEDxFlanders event in Belgium, Janez Potocnik said: “We need to change the way we produce, the way we consume, and basically the way we live.
“Whenever you design a product you already make the destination of that product.”
He said that worldwide the human population will need to consume three times more resources by 2050.
He added that the EU is densely populated and locked into old unsustainable business and economic models and infrastructure. It also imports nearly 100% of its rare earth materials.
Approximately 15 tonnes of resources are used per capita a year in EU. Around five tonnes of that becomes waste and almost three tonnes of that is landfilled.
Potocnik said resource prices are volatile and will continue to become more costly for some time.
Consequently, he said: “Using products which are reusable and recyclable makes economic sense. Change is a logical conclusion.”
Having pointed to resource efficiency and the circular economy, he added: “Share and lease are models which can be used much more in the future.”
Highlighted inefficiencies in the current system included:
- 80% of what we produce is used once and discarded
- Only 1% of the valuable rare earths that we use in products are recycled at the end of the products life
- 80% of resources are used by 20% of the earth’s population (Potocnik warned of rising middle classes worldwide with increasing consumption habits)
- A wedding ring can be produced via 10 tonnes of gold ore or just 10 kilos of mobile phones, yet we recycle just 10% of mobile phones
Potocnik concluded: “We need to turn this fragile century into the century of sustainability.”
Economic and environmental regulation
Potocnik said: “Markets cannot ensure efficiency in the allocation and use of resources. Too many investment decisions are based on short-term interests and are overly-influenced by bonuses.
“Ask the best players on the (football) field if they want to have a good referee and clear rules of the game. This is basically regulation.
“Only if you have a good referee and clear rules of the game are the best players the best players, otherwise you have chaos on the field and the one who prevails on the field is the most aggressive.
“That is exactly what is happening today to our markets and that’s why we need good regulation.”