How can the Environmental Services sector address the threat to nature and biodiversity caused by over-use?

What's going on

Waste generated clearly demonstrates how successfully society minimises over-exploitation by applying circular economy principles, such as redesigning products to last, or so they can be reused, recycled, recovered, or more appropriately disposed of.

Even so, the Environmental Services sector can contribute to over-exploitation in three different ways: Direct impacts, Indirect impacts, and Avoided impacts.

Direct impacts on over-exploitation are largely limited to the efficiency of the recycling and waste management system, of which fuel and energy are the biggest components.

Indirect impacts include the efficiency and quality of the recycling systems and process technologies deployed in the circular economy. The system should be designed for minimum resource consumption, energy, and fuel use across the entire supply chain, for example.

High technology solutions promote higher quality recycled products, requiring less re-work in the supply chain and avoid downcycling. This may take more energy and local resources, but consideration should also be given to the resources saved elsewhere in subsequent product manufacture and consumption.

Avoided impacts are significant as the recycling industry actively diminishes society’s reliance and over consumption of raw materials.

Extraction of mineral and other raw materials – such as timber – is largely unseen by society. Yet such activities involve exploration drilling; use of roads, rail, pipelines, ports, and land for construction; local extraction of construction materials; power and transmission lines; water sources and wastewater treatment.

Although extraction activities are increasingly well managed, the potential impacts biodiversity include the loss of ecosystems and habitats; species loss; effects on sensitive or migratory species; and altered hydrologic and hydrogeological regimes.

Over-exploitation statistics relating to paper, card, and timber tell a powerful story:

  • global paper and cardboard consumption, which was 422 million tonnes in 2018, is expected to grow to 450 million tonnes by 203027
  • paper and card accounts for over 40% of all industrial wood traded globally 28
  • it takes 24 trees to make one ton of paper, which is about 200,000 sheets?
  • a piece of paper can be reused once or twice, but recycled five to seven times
  • recycling one tonne of paper saves 17 trees – or 117 trees if it’s recycled seven times29

The key issues in all three areas relate to the implementation of circular economy principles and the waste management framework. We must use less, and re-use and recycle more.

Product must be better-designed. And producers must take responsibility for the consumption and provenance of the resources used in their creation, and the impact of these products over their lifetimes.

polar bear illustration in blue

Getting nature positive

Inspired by steps waste management & recycling services companies are already taking, we’ve compiled suggested actions to help you on your journey to getting nature positive.

Explore actions for nature