News published on 25.1.2019

How much circulation is possible?

Recyclingsiegel: Es könnte die Verbraucher über die Recyclingfähigkeit von Produkten informieren. ©Copyright: Fairphone

A recycling label could inform consumers about the true recyclability of products. Picture: Fairphone

Metal recycling is regarded as an important measure of the future to secure the supply of raw materials. Many experts agree on this. In most cases, however, it is unclear exactly how recyclable a product is and what proportion of the materials can be recovered at all. In an interview for the Helmholtz Association's "Earth and Environment" knowledge platform, Professor Markus Reuter, Director at the Helmholtz Institute Freiberg for Resource Technology – an institute of the Helmholtz Zentrum Dresden-Rossendorf – argues that the complexity of modern equipment and the resulting scrap make it harder to close material flows and achieve a genuine circular economy.

The good news: a special "Design-for-Recycling", i.e. a recycling-friendly design of products, has a positive effect on recovery. This is the result of a recycling study reported by Markus Reuter in the interview with the "Earth System Knowledge Platform", which is part of the special topic "Raw materials in the deep sea". Together with partners, he investigated the recyclability of "Fairphone 2". 30 to 40 percent of the materials used can be regained from this modular smartphone. The scientists use a special computer program for their calculations. "The circular economy system has become much more complex and detailed and can in principle only be described using metallurgical simulation software," explains Markus Reuter.

The program can calculate the consumption of materials and energy over the entire life cycle of a product or system, including recycling. "We need such an approach for the future. Then consumers will be better informed," argues the recycling expert, who has also developed a model for a recycling label – comparable to the system of energy efficiency classes for electrical appliances. "We need to look at material flows and energy consumption in a systemic way. Only then can we understand the possibilities, but also the limits, of recycling and the circular economy," demands Markus Reuter.


Professor Markus Reuter