3.2.2 End of life waste losses

Waste is not only an environmental problem, but also a form of economic loss. In 2010, Europe produced 2.7 billion tonnes of waste, of which only 40% reused, recycled, or composted. The high rate of material loss at the end-of-life of production means that more materials must be extracted, processed, and fed into the production system, perpetuating the waste cycle.

Source: Eurostat Waste Statistics (2011)

A recent UNEP report on global production waste streams noted that only around one third of the 60 metals it analyzed in the study had an end-of-life recycling rate of 25% or more. Deeper analysis revealed that even for metals with high recycling rates, significant values were lost anually – approximately USD 53 billion (copper), USD 15 billion (aluminum), USD 34 billion (gold) and USD 7 billion (silver).

Similar losses are visible at an industry level. Rubble from construction and demolition of buildings contains numerous materials with recyclable potential (e.g. steel, wood, concrete). Yet, rubble accounts for 26% of the non-industrial solid waste produced in the United States, of which only 20–30% is recycled or reused.

The significant loss of valuable materials within the system is the collective result of inappropriate design, system inefficiency, and waste proliferation paradigm of existing production models.

Source: EPA (2010); Ellen MacArthur Foundation circular economy team
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