It is no wonder then that Earth Overshoot Day – marking the day when the demand for natural resources goes beyond the earth’s annual capacity to generate them – is creeping forward earlier and earlier each year. In 2019, the world reached Earth Overshoot Day on the 29th of July. This Friday for World Environment Day, it was announced that 2020 would see Earth Overshoot Day move later in the year, to August 22 - though that was attributed to the global pandemic, and not true steps toward global resource sustainability. Exactly which planet will society’s resources come from for the rest of the year?
Although plastic has become a symbol of today’s throw-away society, most plastics are highly recyclable, and a resource that can go back into the production of further products. But, right now, between 80 and 120 billion dollars’ worth of plastic materials are lost each year. For example, about 40% of plastic packaging goes to landfill, and 32% ends up in nature as litter, with 8 million tons of plastic pollution entering the oceans each year. This means even more virgin resources must be extracted, and more energy used in order to obtain those virgin resources.
Counteracting this development must be high on the global environmental agenda, in order to maintain the planet for future generations. With finite capacity to generate new resources, the world must turn to the resources it already has… and determine how to gain maximum use from them for greater sustainability, maintain their value and quality, and keep them in a loop of continuous resource reuse.
The end-of-life concept for resources is no longer an option. Stepping back from single-use mindsets, and aligning with reduction and the reuse models of a circular economy, is paramount. Volker Rehrmann, Head of Tomra Circular Economy and Head of Tomra Recycling/Mining, and Kristine Berg, Circular Economy Advisor, at Tomra, are clear advocates for this transformation. “At Tomra, we know that waste is an old-fashioned concept, and it’s actually resources for something new,” explains Kristine Berg.
The pair give insight into the current resource problem, emphasizing the necessary shift to a circular economy on all scales, and consumer pressure on brands to become more sustainable. They highlight reuse models that already exist, such as Tomra automated waste sorting technology that diverts recyclable material from household waste, which otherwise might have been destined for landfills. Tomra reverse vending systems enable the return of used beverage containers for recycling, as part of deposit return systems where consumers get back a deposit for their empty drink containers. “You maintain the value and quality of the material when you recycle. It’s a beautiful example of the circular economy, because it literally teaches people the value of waste in a very concrete way,” explains Kristine Berg.
The circular economy seeks to move the date on Earth Overshoot Day. “Mother Earth can only generate as much as it can, and we are consuming much more. Sooner or later, our resources will be gone. It will happen if we don’t change to a circular economy where we will reuse our limited resources,” predicts Volker Rehrmann. “Everything we do at Tomra is about protecting resources and helping the world recycle. This transition or change towards a circular economy, towards more sustainable businesses, does not only come from companies who have realized and seen that. This push is coming a lot from the consumers, and they’re pushing their brands to become more sustainable. They have an expectation from the companies they buy from.”
Closing the loop can only be achieved when all stakeholders work together. Tomra, as an integral part of the waste-reuse value chain, is among the leaders of this transformation. Through its sensor-based solutions, Tomra promotes a circular economy by means of advanced collection and sorting systems that optimize resource recovery and minimize waste in the food, recycling and mining industries. Tomra has further committed to the circular economy by joining The Alliance to End Plastic Waste, which strives to banish plastic waste from our environment.
When waste is treated as a resource and handled accordingly – such as being collected and sorted according to factors like color and materials, through technologies such as sensor-based sorting – it can generate material with high purity and quality. Whether plastic, metals, paper or electronic waste, these materials can be brought back into the loop. Tomra solutions can be brought to different applications and for diverse waste streams.
“That’s one of the biggest challenges, that people realize and understand that we cannot continue like that. We need to design our products differently. We need to design them for a circular world so that they can easily be recycled,” adds Volker Rehrmann.
Society needs to stop viewing plastic as waste, and instead view it as a resource – and an opportunity. Together we must take up the challenge of converting the global population to a mindset where materials such as plastic are seen and treated as reusable and valuable.