How can the Environmental Services sector address the threat to nature and biodiversity caused by over-exploitation of natural resources?
What's going on
The level of waste generated can demonstrate how successful society can be at minimising over-exploitation by applying circular economy principles, such as redesigning products to last, or so they can be reused or recycled.
Even so, the Environmental Services sector can help to minimise 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. The industry should strive to recycle more materials.
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 avoiding 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 minerals 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 and quarrying; local extraction of construction materials; power and transmission lines; water sources and wastewater treatment.
Although extraction activities are increasingly well managed, the potential impacts of 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 2030. [source]
- paper and card account for over 40% of all industrial wood traded globally. [source]
- 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 times. [source]
- Evidence suggests that 80% of the damage inflicted upon the environment when products become waste can be avoided if more thoughtful decisions are made at the production stage. [source]
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.
Products 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. The Resources and Waste Strategy sets how to take a sustainable approach to production, such as a new Plastic Packaging Tax, now coming into force from April 2022, extended producer responsibility, and setting minimum design requirements. Read more here.
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.