A closed-loop economy protects the climate

A closed-loop economy protects the climate

A good week before the Climate Protection Law was passed in Germany’s climate committee, the so-called Climate Cabinet, the NABU (Naturschutzbund Deutschland or Nature and Biodiversity Conservation Union) hosted a parliamentary evening in Berlin on 20 September. Its topic: How can a closed-loop economy help protect the climate?

Olaf Tschimpke, President of NABU, provided the answer in his welcome speech: “By closing loops and using resources efficiently it is possible to reduce carbon dioxide emissions and other greenhouse gas emissions”. “The use of recycled HDPE, for example in shampoo bottles, not only saves raw materials but energy as well,” added Sascha Roth, Environmental Policy Officer at Nabu. This means that objects made out of recycled materials also contribute to avoiding carbon dioxide emissions; this has also been shown by a study conducted by ESE GmbH from Brandenburg.

Männlicher Redner vor Auditorium
Herwart Wilms, Managing Director of Remondis Assets & Services GmbH & Co. KG at the parliamentary evening of NABU on 10 September 2019 in Berlin

A closed-loop economy could make a significant contribution to reducing emissions,” says Herwart Wilms, Managing Director of Remondis Assets & Services GmbH & Co. KG. “It would be worth it to get started right away,” he demanded at the beginning of the event.

A more efficient collection and separation system for waste could make expensive renovations of older waste incineration plants obsolete. According to a study that was presented at the event and carried out by the Oeko-Institut on behalf of NABU, such renovations would become necessary in the course of the next few years.

Collecting and processing landfill gas alone can reduce the emissions of the greenhouse gas methane. “This is an important step towards meeting the climate protection goals,” said Wilms. “In this context, it is important to make full use of the existing legal framework,” explained Karsten Sach, Head of the Directorate-General (Climate Policy) at the Federal Ministry for the Environment. He did not yet want to make a public statement on the role of a closed-loop economy in the draft of the Climate Protection Law, but he curbed excessively high expectations: “No closed-loop revolution will take place.”

Remondis’ business model is now based mainly on the production of recycled raw materials. Accordingly, the company is interested in measures that make the processing of residual materials more cost-effective and transparent than the use of new materials. “In order to achieve this, more efforts are required with regard to the product design, to a clear labelling system for the industry and for the consumers as well as to the requirements for public procurement procedures,” said Wilms.

Michael Thews, representative in the federal parliament for the Social Democratic Party, also demanded more transparency for consumers. A carbon dioxide tax would also make the purchase of products made from primary materials more expensive and encourage consumers to rethink their habits. However, Lisa Badum, representative in the federal parliament for the Green Party, said that it was very difficult for the average consumer to avoid plastic and packaging materials in everyday life. She argues that the industry needs to take responsibility.

At the end of the event it was obvious: in view of the climate protection debate, it is the right time to take concrete measures for creating a consistent closed-loop economy. It is now of vital importance to overcome the persistent force of inertia of the industry, the consumers and the politicians – it is not an easy task, but one that is worthwhile.