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Reusable systems conserve resources by eliminating waste through intensive multiple use. In accordance with the binding EU-wide five-step waste hierarchy (prevention before reuse before recycling before energy recovery before disposal), reusable systems are an option that should really be considered early on.
Unfortunately, the differences between reuse and recycling are often diluted by political and economical considerations. One of the reasons for this may be linked to the way the term “circular economy” is used: in legal and eco-assessment contexts, often it is only the area of waste management and recycling (i.e. at the end of the product’s life) that is described, and not a comprehensive analysis of the product’s life cycle (from manufacture to end-of-life), even though the term “circular economy” suggests carrying out a comprehensive analysis.
Furthermore, the instrument of life cycle assessment (LCA) approach so far selected as standard mainly focuses the choice of the indicators on the impacts of a product or a system with regard to harmful emissions – and, in particular, on its contribution to the greenhouse effect.
In the Foundation’s view, the issue of conserving resources (and, connected to this, the issue of waste avoidance highlighted in the EU waste hierarchy) has, to date, not sufficiently been taken into consideration in life-cycle assessments, which typically do not include all the environmental benefits of reusable systems.
This is of particular importance as Germany’s Closed-Loop Materials and Waste Management Act provides that the waste hierarchy may be overridden if a waste treatment lower in the hierarchy shows (seemingly) better results in the life cycle analysis (LCA)
The Foundation has therefore commissioned ÖkoSoMa UG to examine the methodology of life-cycle assessments, in particular with regard to the conservation of resources, and to develop proposals for their further development. The study will be published in 2014.
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