Why recycling is getting more and more important
The increased use of raw materials causes environmental damage all along the value chain. If today´s trend continues, the use of mineral and metallic raw materials will increase to about 50 billion tons in 2030. The strongest impact is caused on the first three levels of the value chain*.
The production of raw materials leads to land consumption. At the same time, the raw materials themselves may be released - e.g. lead dust, but also associated materials that e.g. may be radioactive, or auxiliary materials used in the process (e.g. mercury for extracting gold). The production of raw materials and goods requires the use of large quantities of energy and water and causes emissions of pollutants that harm mankind and nature. These material flows then turn into waste that is not fully recycled and can again harm the environment.
All processed raw materials turn into potential secondary raw materials once their useful period is over. Part of them leave our economic system through exportation of used goods and waste. In 2008 alone between 93 000 and 216 000 tons of used or old electronic devices were exported to the developing countries of Southeast Asia or Africa. Waste management structures in the receiving countries are far below those of EU states and endanger the health of man and nature.
The processing of electronic waste in developing and emerging nations is often done with simplest means in small or family enterprises, sometimes using child labour. Widespread methods are the burning of electronic waste in the open air for the extraction of copper, melting soldering metals on coal fires and the use of acid baths for extracting metals. This way numerous harmful substances are released which endanger the health of all persons involved in the recycling process as well as their families and people living close to the workshops. Residuals toxic waste is often disposed of in illegal dumps which leads to lasting contamination of the ground and groundwater with heavy metals and organic pollutants (dioxines). **
* The five value chain levels:
- Mining and extraction,
- Production of raw materials,
- Production of goods,
- Utilization of goods,
- Waste management
** Environental Report 2012, Responsibility in a limited World, Council of Experts on environmental questions