16th August 2021

Why recycling matters.

From cans, coffee capsules and aluminium to plastic; supermarket shelves are piled with packaged products, while online retailers support a global packaging obsession. Are we drowning in waste, and does recycling make any difference? Thomas Hoffmann from SuperDrecksKëscht (SDK) explains why the EU Commission holds up Luxembourg as a model for the rest of Europe to follow and offers us five useful tips on how we can live more sustainably.

1. Mr Hoffmann, many thanks for taking the time to explain how we can help reduce Luxembourg’s carbon footprint. Plastic takes hundreds of years to decompose. Does this make it the toughest material you have to deal with?

As a matter of fact, it is. The wide range of different types of plastic and ways it can be used make it difficult to offer a catch-all solution in this area. In addition, plastic has many technical applications for which there are no alternatives. When it comes to packaging, there are plenty of good recycling solutions. The main issue is how to prevent plastic use.

Spuerkeess recently participated in the “Zero Single-Use Plastic” project organised by IMS with support from Luxembourg’s Ministry of the Environment, Climate and Sustainable Development (MECDD)[1]. as well as SDK[2].

The project primarily focused on the food and drink packaging used in offices and administrative buildings and how these can be replaced by alternative products.

While we still have plenty of work to do, bringing various stakeholders together could enable us to keep finding new ways to solve our plastic problem.

Plastic is not an inherently bad thing. The MECDD deliberately opted for plastic with the Ecobox, a reusable container for transporting meals, because it represents the best solution in terms of hygiene and practicality. Furthermore, it can be recycled over and over again.

[1] Ministère de l’Environnement, du Climat et du Développement durable

[2] SuperDrecksKëscht

2. What other materials should Luxembourg’s consumers recycle and what are the main benefits of recycling?

Paper, cardboard and glass are good recyclable waste products. Consumers are obliged to collect these three types of waste, plus plastics. This regulation is set out in the current Luxembourg Waste Management Act of 2012.

Generally speaking, almost all separately-collected waste products are recyclable with a few exceptions, such as pharmaceuticals or pesticides. With this in mind, the Luxembourg government published its own zero-waste strategy last autumn with the aim of reducing non-recyclable waste to zero.

SDK has developed a resource potential tool that makes it possible to review the amount of secondary raw materials produced by recycling processes, i.e. how ‘good’ the recycling process is. This kind of tool is essential for creating a circular economy.

‘Good’ recycling processes are those that preserve our resources and – as the energy required to use secondary raw materials is also lower – protect our environment and reduce our carbon footprint.

However, we must not forget that preventing and reusing waste must remain our first priority. Refilling toner cartridges is a great example.

3. Is there a negative side to recycling?

The term ‘recycling’ includes a wide range of recovery processes. However, closed-loop systems involving glass, metal and, to a large extent, paper and cardboard, are seen as particularly positive. The best example are new glass bottles, produced from old ones.

In the case of what is known as ‘downcycling’, which is particularly common for plastics that cannot be sorted into distinct types, the secondary raw materials are used to manufacture inferior products. After their 'second lives’, these products can be thermally recycled, which means they are incinerated to generate energy. However, this is not a proper closed-loop system.

It does not always make sense to recycle at all costs, particularly when it comes to composite materials or mixed products. Tools such as the PCDS (Product Circularity Data Sheet) indicates how easily a product can be recycled. As a matter of fact, the Ministère de l’Economie (Ministry of Economy) recently introduced the tool.

 

4. Germany is top of the class when it comes to recycling. What is the current situation in Luxembourg? How well do we score compared to the rest of Europe?

Without wishing to offend Germany, this is not generally the case. Germany's leading position is partially due to differences in statistical reporting methods, which are gradually being standardised at EU level.

With a household waste recycling rate of 49% in 2019, Luxembourg was above the EU average. Given that Luxembourg’s statistics are based on better data than in other countries, it is reasonable to assume that we are among the top performers in this area. We are, for example, well ahead of Germany when it comes to waste material such as batteries and electronics.

Thus, the EU Commission recently cited Luxembourg as a leader in solving waste problems.  

5. Why doesn’t Luxembourg have a bottle deposit scheme?

A deposit-based return system already exists in some areas such as beer and soft drinks. The government is also reconsidering whether to introduce a return system for wine bottles, which would require a central bottle cleaning facility.

Due to Luxembourg’s position as a transit country and the high number of cross-border commuters, no deposits for disposable packaging have been introduced in the Grand-Duchy. A solo effort to introduce a deposit system for disposable packaging at national level would be extremely costly and fraught with problems. Currently, Luxembourg is working with Belgium and the Netherlands to find a common solution.

6. Some people do not see the need to recycle. What are consumers’ main complaints?

We still regularly come up against preconceptions that recycling is useless as, ultimately, waste is mixed. However, the general level of knowledge within the population has increased significantly in recent years, and a growing number of people now realise that climate protection, energy, resource consumption and even biodiversity are all closely linked.

The business world has also recognised that the circular economy is a valuable economic and environmental tool for enabling their companies to continue operating in an age of scarce resources.

Prejudices against recycling are generally based on misinformation, which means that education is vital.

For example, SDK is working with the Luxembourg Consumer Association (ULC), applying a variety of PR tools and conducting targeted campaigns.

The SDK Academy works closely with the Luxembourg Ministère de l'Éducation nationale, de l’Enfance et de la Jeunesse (Ministry of Education, Children and Youth) and other educational institutions to offer informative content aimed at children, young people and adults.

Of course, it is also important to raise awareness among all employees of the companies and institutions associated with the ‘SDK fir Betriber’ waste management initiative.

7. Recycling also poses safety challenges, including exposure to chemicals, combustible dust explosions and risks relating to machine protection.

How does SuperDrecksKëscht deal with problems like these, and what solutions have you implemented?

This applies to the problematic waste material that SDK comes into contact with on a regular basis, even though this type of waste generally only makes up a fraction of all waste material.

At SDK, our goal is to inform consumers and make everybody understand how they should recycle. Handling and storing waste material safely is a fundamental element of our waste prevention and management concept for companies and institutions.

SDK works closely with its partners on an ongoing basis to train its own staff and those at recycling centres on how to deal with dangerous waste products or, for example, in connection with the products used as part of our eco-friendly cleaning services.

Consumers are kept informed via all of SDK’s PR channels, including in close cooperation with other stakeholders such as the ULC and local authorities.

8. Is there anything else you would like to add?

Preventing waste, consuming sustainably and reducing our carbon footprint does not mean we have to do without the things we love. On the contrary, consuming consciously, mindfully and in harmony with nature and the environment can make us happier. It also means we can live up to the expectations of our children, grandchildren and future generations.

9. What are your five sustainability tips for our readers?

Five tips for sustainable behaviour:

1. Buy long-lasting, high-quality products that can be repaired. Second-hand products are generally as good as their new counterparts.

2. Look out for environmental and sustainability labels such as the ‘Clever akafen’ logo, the Biolabel or the Fairtrade logo.

3. Buy locally and seasonally. This way we can save on packaging for fruit and vegetables.

4. The old motto “think globally, act locally” is as relevant as ever. By taking many small steps and changing our personal behaviour, we can change the world.

5. Last but not least, separate your remaining waste products and make use of local facilities such as recycling centres, kerbside packaging collections and SuperDrecksKëscht’s mobile collection service.

About the blog:

 
There is an urgent need for rapid transition to Global Environmental Sustainability. Thanks to changemakers, progress is possible. "Why does it matter?" is a bi-monthly series that takes a quick look at the forefront of today's trends around  sustainability. From May 2021 on, we aim to elucidate this important topic through the eyes of our experts. 

 
Your contribution counts too! From June on, don't miss out our experts' practical tips for your daily life.