Resources and recycling

Whether gravel or rare earths, sand or copper – we use raw materials excessively and often without remembering that they are finite or thinking of the consequences of mining them. We need them for the houses that we live in, the smartphones with which we communicate, the cars in which we travel. In 2011 every person in Germany consumed 40 kilos of raw materials every day – equivalent to 16.2 tonnes per person per year.

Mining and using resources: the consequences

The mining and use of resources has numerous adverse impacts on humans and the environment. The issues include inadequate health and safety standards for workers in many of the producing countries, the felling of forests in Europe and the pollution or even poisoning of lakes, rivers and soils.

We need to do all we can to recover raw materials that have already been used. Too many valuable resources are still being lost because collection systems are inadequate or non-existent, handling is inefficient or materials are simply not being channelled into good recycling processes – this often applies to the cobalt in device batteries and to the rare earths in modern magnets.

Working to transform our use of resources

The Oeko-Institut wants to see a complete transformation of the way we use resources. The shape that this could take was outlined in a self-funded project in 2016 entitled “Germany 2049 – Transition to a sustainable use of raw materials”. The institute’s researchers performed a large-scale analysis, formulated targets and showed how various raw materials could be sustainably extracted, used and recycled. Experts at the Oeko-Institut are also working on issues such as European waste and raw materials policy and international mining.

Expertise

Analysis of environmental hazards associated with resources and mining

Resource extraction can cause major environmental damage in mining regions. The Oeko-Institut analyses the environmental hazards associated with resources and mining. It conducts preliminary assessments of mining projects and provides guidance on prioritising resources with least environmental impact.

Example: Developing a method for assessing ecological resource availability

Mineral supply chain due diligence

As a result of new legislation and pressure from civil society, companies are increasingly required to conduct environmental and human rights due diligence in mineral supply chains. The Oeko-Institut looks at the various options for meeting these due diligence obligations and advises on strategies that achieve compliance with regulatory provisions and have positive impacts on the regions concerned.

Sample project: An Evaluation of the Dodd-Frank Act

Assessing and improving recycling processes

Incorrect recycling of hazardous waste, such as e-waste, end-of-life vehicles and used batteries, can have major impacts on the environment. The Oeko-Institut assesses recycling processes and develops and monitors strategies to improve them. It focuses on the economic and social dimensions as well as on technical and environmental aspects.

Sample project: Baseline Assessment on E-Waste Management in Ghana

Benchmark assessments for lead smelters

Lead-acid battery recycling is a high-risk process which often has serious impacts on the health of workers and local residents, particularly in developing countries and emerging economies, by exposing them to toxic substances. The Oeko-Institut assesses all the processes involved in recycling and identifies improvements and strategies at workplace, sectoral and regulatory level.

Sample project: Management and Recycling of Batteries in Solar Home Systems