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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