“Waste which cannot be avoided can become a valuable resource”. This is the main message of the Generation Awake campaign launched in 2011 by the European Commission’s Directorate-General for the Environment to promote a resource-efficient Europe.
There is greater demand than ever for natural resources: global extraction of metals, minerals, timber, land, soil and fresh water has been projected to increase by 75% in the 25 years from 2005 to 2030. At the same time the EU consumes far more than it exports. In 2010, for example, Europe imported over three times more materials than it exported (six times more in the case of fuels and mining products).
Resource efficiency is about doing more with less, using limited resources sustainably and minimising our impact on the environment. The Generation Awake campaign invites people to do just that: think about consumption habits and their consequences for the environment, natural resources, quality of life, health and well-being.
Generation Awake promotes the notion that in order to face the challenges confronting us today, we need to change the way goods are produced and consumed.
Waste into resource
One of the tools of this is turning waste into a resource by reusing and recycling in a circular economy of make-use-return.
On average, each of the 500 million people living in the EU throws away around half a tonne of household rubbish every year. This is on top of huge amounts of waste generated from activities such as manufacturing (360 million tonnes) and construction (900 million tonnes), while water supply and energy production generate another 95 million tonnes. Altogether, the European Union produces up to 3 billion tonnes of waste every year.
Traditionally waste has been seen as a source of pollution, but well managed waste can be a valuable source of materials, especially in a time when many raw materials are becoming scarce.
E-waste as a valuable source
This is true also of waste electrical and electronic equipment (WEEE), especially in light of the fact that ‘e-waste’ is one of the fastest growing waste streams in Europe, increasing by 3-5% a year.
Only one-third of WEEE (33%) is separately collected and managed. The rest (13%) goes to landfills or to substandard treatment within or outside the EU (54%). This is especially troubling in light of the fact that the average lifetime of a mobile phone is 18 months and that there are some three quarters of a billion mobile phone subscribers in Europe.
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