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Germany debates ‘post-growth society’ issue

Germany – Economic growth can be compatible with responsible environmental management, the German Advisory Council on the Environment (SRU) states in a new report.

‘€˜Compliance with environmental limits does not necessarily mean the end of growth. Better yet: the potential for decoupling prosperity from resource use is far from exhausted,’€™ the council says. Its report offers German Environment Minister Peter Altmaier several suggestions that it hopes will pave the way towards better use of resources.

Presenting the SRU’€™s findings to Minister Altmaier, the organisation’€™s Chairman, Prof Martin Faulstich, said: ‘€˜Unlimited growth is not possible in a finite world. This means that the dramatic reduction of our resource and energy use and their environmental impacts are becoming a key question for the 21st century.’€™

For example, the introduction of a mandatory deposit and refund system for mobile phones and computers would improve collection rates for used electronic equipment and reduce raw materials consumption, the SRU recommends. A ‘€˜marked increase in closed-cycle management’€™ could be achieved by introducing minimum standards for disposal of end-of-life electrical and electronic equipment.

From the opposite side, the report says that a tax on primary construction materials ‘€˜could reduce the pressure to continue extracting mineral resources in Germany’€™ while incentivising the construction industry to use secondary raw materials. Resource extraction, however, is pinpointed as a ‘€˜special challenge’€™ because so much of this takes place outside Germany.

The SRU warns: ‘€˜Failure to observe environmental limits can involve the passing of tipping points which could have serious repercussions on the environment, economy and the public.’€™ Compliance with existing regulations must be made a priority in the national, European and international debates, or a ‘€˜post-waste society’€™ may never be reached, the report concludes.

The SRU is made up of seven university professors from a range of different environment-related disciplines and has been advising the German government for 40 years. But Bitkom, the information and communications technology group, believes the SRU’€™s hopes for more efficient recycling of mobile phones are ill-founded.

Bitkom’€™s recent study of German consumer behaviour revealed that up to 30% of used mobiles ‘€“ an estimated 83 million devices in total – are ‘€˜stowed away in drawers’€™. Implementing a deposit scheme for such products would be ‘€˜more costly and have little added benefit’€™ compared with current take-back systems run on behalf of producers, the company claimed.

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