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And yet, at the present rate at which it is increasingly produced and consumed, i. This means that the aggregate consumption of iron ore over time will be in , what it would have been in if there was no recycling at all and, in , what it would have been in if we now stopped recycling altogether. For a growth rate of about 1 to 1. But the curves shown in the first section confirm that this is no longer a sustainable option. One way or another, sooner or later, the increase in the need for raw materials will have to slow down, since for example, multiplying by 10, the production of steel and the extraction of ore in the next years is simply inconceivable.

The area in white represents the accumulated quantities of scrap iron recycled in the 20th century. The plain area in grey is the total amount of steel produced over two centuries using ore. In fact, the first area is minute compared to the second one. In fact, we are doubling the lead time to those outcomes, however far away they may be. But the effect of that slowing down again is greater by far than that produced by recycling cf. Highly contrasted situations must be entered into the equation depending on the characteristics in economic terms of the raw material involved.

Legend of the figure: The graph is represented for a residence time in the economy of 17 years above or 7 years below. One material with a long residence time, such as iron 17 years in this case. Two materials with a short residence time, such as lead or oil in this case, 7 years. Even though much plastics are recycled worldwide, clearly the effect on the conservation of this resource is bound to be of little consequence on the depletion of the resource which does not affect on the other hand the significant role of plastics recycling in limiting CO 2 emissions.

Lead, furthermore, is a particularly good illustration of our analysis, because statistics for global production using virgin or recycled material have been relatively well documented for the last thirty years and its recent history shows two relatively consistent, but distinctly different, phases of growth in production see figure 7. And yet, recent economic developments in their consumption, if they were to continue unabated, would lead to such preposterous orders of magnitude within a century or two, or even within a few decades, for us to confidently predict that some changes in industrial and economic processes are bound to occur in the relatively short term.


  1. ANNEX A: Determining the length of the time lag in aggregate consumption?
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Recycling will never make a significant contribution to a decoupling of sustained economic development from growth in the consumption of raw materials. It is only once the need for raw materials is stabilised, by other means, that recycling can contribute appreciably, or even enormously, to the conservation of natural resources for future generations.

In essence, this is the stated aim of the law on Circular Economy which came into force in China in , the motivations of which the introduction to a recent World Bank report sums up as follows:. CE is becoming a core component of its sustainable development strategy. The ultimate objective of the CE approach is to achieve the decoupling of economic growth from natural resource depletion and environmental degradation.

The effects of increasing growth on resource use were not offset by improvements in resource use efficiency. Even with increased use of the 3R principle, total net resource use continued to grow. In some cases, puzzlingly, recycling rates even declined". On this subject, the report quotes the steel recycling rate, which declined from The The recent acceleration of steel production growth in fact explains mechanically the drop in the apparent rate.

The fundamental decoupling of economic development from total consumption of the raw material, be it primary or secondary virgin or recycled ;. Followed by the relative decoupling of total consumption of raw materials from consumption of virgin materials, through increased recycling.

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But in fact, they should be multiplied: which means that the effect of the whole is nil or almost nil if one of the two decouplings is incomplete. They represent the aggregate consumption stocks or production from onwards, instead of, as before, the annual consumption. The assumption is an annual GDP and consumption of materials growth of 3. In the absence of fundamental decoupling, relative decoupling is pointless. But this fundamental decoupling alone is clearly insufficient, as is shown by the shape of the dotted curve total stock of aggregate raw material consumption, therefore stock of aggregate consumption of the virgin material in the absence of recycling.

There is no other way out of the quandary. It is sometimes mentioned in conjunction with the undeniable deindustrialisation of the most developed countries: since the economy of rich countries is becoming more service-based, this would mean that the creation of wealth is moving in the direction of dematerialisation. This is absolutely not the case: some services are based on material assets, some of which may be produced in other countries, but contribute to the creation of wealth in the user countries.

In fact, the quantity of waste that is produced is a fairly direct indicator of the materiality of wealth: wherever the material is manufactured, the place where it becomes waste material is the one where it contributed ultimately to the creation of wealth. The economy " materialised " more than ever. The history of variation in the price of raw materials does not generally endorse theoretical approaches to the economics of scarcity, in particular "Hotelling's rule" which stipulates that the marginal rent of a non-renewable resource grows in theory at the same pace as the economy's interest rate Krautkraemer, On the one hand, while the finiteness of a given resource is a theoretical certainty on a planetary scale, in practice it remains a hazy and quantitatively fluctuating entity, constantly reviewed in the light of newly discovered deposits, diversity in the quality of ores and developments in extraction and production technology.

On the other hand, fluctuations in demand, an imperfect market and developments in the cost of extraction and production never cease to disturb the "scarcity-price" signal Krautkraemer, It is in no way substantiated that the empirically pertinent time scale on the raw materials market is compatible with what is required for the adaptation of economic models, particularly in a sector where uncertainty rules.


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  • It might even be true that the natural operating mode of the "price" signal in an economic scarcity environment is to trigger acute crises rather than a succession of anticipations. An approach through services providing the economy with decoupling solutions for development;. An approach through responsibility, by implementing or extending new forms of management of externalities. In the light of our earlier analysis, the considerable and immediate effect of such a process on the economy is clear, as are also the two limitations it places on our objective:.

    They do not contribute, on that account , to the priority objective of quasi-stabilisation of the total needs for raw materials. The first virtue of the "product-service system" and its sole virtue from the point of view of the fundamental decoupling objective is that it can offer, on the basis of the same essential needs as before for economic actors, an apparently unlimited scope for future economic development, the intrinsic logic of which is no longer consuming more material to sell more products , but, on the contrary, consuming less to reduce the costs of the service being sold.

    Be that as it may, it is truly in the increase of the intangible value of goods and services, that is more their usable value than their actual quantity, that the major portion of extra economic development will necessarily reside. In fact, in this case the object is not so much to reduce the amount of waste but rather, in so doing, to encourage a reduction of the quantities of materials used to make the products which will later become waste.

    The most popular approach is the principle known as "extended producer responsibility" which places the responsibility of the future of an item of waste on the initial producer of that good, instead of on the last owner as in traditional segmentation Walls, It is also sometimes spontaneously chosen by some manufacturers who include in the sale of the goods they produce the future recovery and processing service for the product at the end of its useful life.

    Finally, another form is through taxes, the aim being that economic actors bear the estimated cost of negative externalities—in this case the relative depletion of the collective capital of "accessible material" on the planet; it corresponds for example to the auctioning of European carbon quotas as of , or the "carbon tax" in preparation in France. Then and then only, will it be possible to observe the fundamental decoupling of the economy from raw materials and give priority to the second component, that is the relative decoupling generated by recycling.

    The flow of secondary raw materials permanently available via waste products would, in such a scenario, become an increasingly attractive source on the commodities market, in comparison with ever less accessible natural deposits. Indeed it seems likely that technological advances will not be able to compensate entirely for the increasing complexity of extraction. For example, mining for gold at a depth of 4, meters in the South African Tau Tona mine will be more expensive, per ounce, than running the same mine 50 years ago with less sophisticated technical equipment of course, but at much more accessible depths Source: Steel Statistical Yearbook, IISI, quoted by CYCLOPE For each net importing country of a raw material, the secondary raw material, available within its own borders, is therefore a national source and a powerful factor of strategic independence, useful to counteract possible growing tension for access to resources.

    On the basis of life cycle assessments LCA , to be calculated for each sector, recycling becomes a decisive environmental motivation due to its contribution to fighting global warming. We can note in passing that the dynamic analysis in case of resource depletion should not be transposed directly to global warming, on the one hand because of the extreme imminence of the catastrophic consequences of warming and, on the other hand, because of the relative determination already stated by governments to seek solutions and implement them.

    Fundamental decoupling , consisting in curbing the growth of global needs for raw materials,. Relative decoupling , aiming to reduce, through recycling and re-use, the share of primary resources in the production of raw materials. Business:Growing attractiveness of secondary raw materials as commodities. For materials on a "stabilised" consumption curve, because it is already an essential factor for the success of a sustainable development policy,.

    For materials whose consumption is not stabilised, i. Ackerman F. Why Do We Recycle? On the Dynamics of Recycling and Natural Resources. Arrow K. Are We Consuming Too Much? Bartlett A. Natural Resources Research, Vol. Chalmin Ph. Gaillochet Dourille E. G8 Kerry Smith V. Krautkraemer J. Nonrenewable Resource Scarcity. Journal of Economic Literature, Vol. Michel J. July-August Maddison A. OECD Measuring material flows and resource productivity.

    Synthesis report. Rees J. United Nations USGS U. Geological Survey: Mineral Commodity. Summaries Walls M. Wernick I. Materialization and Dematerialization: Measures and Trends. Daedalus 3 : The issue under consideration is to calculate the length of the time lag between aggregate consumption of virgin material, with or without recycling, depending on the assumptions for the consumption dynamics of total raw material.

    We are considering exclusively a given natural material, metal, for example and we assume a total consumption by human society growing at an annual constant rate.

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    The material has a residence time in the economic circuit before it becomes waste: the time of its distribution and use as consumer goods, or depending on the life time of the investments involved. Obviously, its duration varies considerably depending on use in each particular case. A portion of the material present in the waste is recycled.

    The effectiveness of recycling is described as the "recycling rate", defined as follows: the portion of the deposit of that material effectively present in all types of waste which is recycled. Since we are in a growth economy, this amount will necessarily take into account the duration of residence time of the material. By definition, the quantity of material present in waste is the total quantity which was consumed a few years previously — the difference being the residence time in the economy.

    In fact, the "missing" third is in no way to be blamed on a faulty recycling system; it is simply the inevitable effect of growth in consumption over time. Followed by the relative decoupling of total consumption of raw materials from consumption of virgin materials, through increased recycling. But in fact, they should be multiplied: which means that the effect of the whole is nil or almost nil if one of the two decouplings is incomplete.

    They represent the aggregate consumption stocks or production from onwards, instead of, as before, the annual consumption. The assumption is an annual GDP and consumption of materials growth of 3. In the absence of fundamental decoupling, relative decoupling is pointless. But this fundamental decoupling alone is clearly insufficient, as is shown by the shape of the dotted curve total stock of aggregate raw material consumption, therefore stock of aggregate consumption of the virgin material in the absence of recycling.

    There is no other way out of the quandary. It is sometimes mentioned in conjunction with the undeniable deindustrialisation of the most developed countries: since the economy of rich countries is becoming more service-based, this would mean that the creation of wealth is moving in the direction of dematerialisation. This is absolutely not the case: some services are based on material assets, some of which may be produced in other countries, but contribute to the creation of wealth in the user countries.

    In fact, the quantity of waste that is produced is a fairly direct indicator of the materiality of wealth: wherever the material is manufactured, the place where it becomes waste material is the one where it contributed ultimately to the creation of wealth. The economy " materialised " more than ever. The history of variation in the price of raw materials does not generally endorse theoretical approaches to the economics of scarcity, in particular "Hotelling's rule" which stipulates that the marginal rent of a non-renewable resource grows in theory at the same pace as the economy's interest rate Krautkraemer, On the one hand, while the finiteness of a given resource is a theoretical certainty on a planetary scale, in practice it remains a hazy and quantitatively fluctuating entity, constantly reviewed in the light of newly discovered deposits, diversity in the quality of ores and developments in extraction and production technology.

    On the other hand, fluctuations in demand, an imperfect market and developments in the cost of extraction and production never cease to disturb the "scarcity-price" signal Krautkraemer, It is in no way substantiated that the empirically pertinent time scale on the raw materials market is compatible with what is required for the adaptation of economic models, particularly in a sector where uncertainty rules.

    It might even be true that the natural operating mode of the "price" signal in an economic scarcity environment is to trigger acute crises rather than a succession of anticipations. An approach through services providing the economy with decoupling solutions for development;. An approach through responsibility, by implementing or extending new forms of management of externalities. In the light of our earlier analysis, the considerable and immediate effect of such a process on the economy is clear, as are also the two limitations it places on our objective:.

    They do not contribute, on that account , to the priority objective of quasi-stabilisation of the total needs for raw materials. The first virtue of the "product-service system" and its sole virtue from the point of view of the fundamental decoupling objective is that it can offer, on the basis of the same essential needs as before for economic actors, an apparently unlimited scope for future economic development, the intrinsic logic of which is no longer consuming more material to sell more products , but, on the contrary, consuming less to reduce the costs of the service being sold.

    Be that as it may, it is truly in the increase of the intangible value of goods and services, that is more their usable value than their actual quantity, that the major portion of extra economic development will necessarily reside. In fact, in this case the object is not so much to reduce the amount of waste but rather, in so doing, to encourage a reduction of the quantities of materials used to make the products which will later become waste. The most popular approach is the principle known as "extended producer responsibility" which places the responsibility of the future of an item of waste on the initial producer of that good, instead of on the last owner as in traditional segmentation Walls, It is also sometimes spontaneously chosen by some manufacturers who include in the sale of the goods they produce the future recovery and processing service for the product at the end of its useful life.

    Finally, another form is through taxes, the aim being that economic actors bear the estimated cost of negative externalities—in this case the relative depletion of the collective capital of "accessible material" on the planet; it corresponds for example to the auctioning of European carbon quotas as of , or the "carbon tax" in preparation in France. Then and then only, will it be possible to observe the fundamental decoupling of the economy from raw materials and give priority to the second component, that is the relative decoupling generated by recycling.

    The flow of secondary raw materials permanently available via waste products would, in such a scenario, become an increasingly attractive source on the commodities market, in comparison with ever less accessible natural deposits. Indeed it seems likely that technological advances will not be able to compensate entirely for the increasing complexity of extraction. For example, mining for gold at a depth of 4, meters in the South African Tau Tona mine will be more expensive, per ounce, than running the same mine 50 years ago with less sophisticated technical equipment of course, but at much more accessible depths Source: Steel Statistical Yearbook, IISI, quoted by CYCLOPE For each net importing country of a raw material, the secondary raw material, available within its own borders, is therefore a national source and a powerful factor of strategic independence, useful to counteract possible growing tension for access to resources.

    On the basis of life cycle assessments LCA , to be calculated for each sector, recycling becomes a decisive environmental motivation due to its contribution to fighting global warming.

    Recycling Basics | Reduce, Reuse, Recycle | US EPA

    We can note in passing that the dynamic analysis in case of resource depletion should not be transposed directly to global warming, on the one hand because of the extreme imminence of the catastrophic consequences of warming and, on the other hand, because of the relative determination already stated by governments to seek solutions and implement them. Fundamental decoupling , consisting in curbing the growth of global needs for raw materials,.

    Relative decoupling , aiming to reduce, through recycling and re-use, the share of primary resources in the production of raw materials. Business:Growing attractiveness of secondary raw materials as commodities. For materials on a "stabilised" consumption curve, because it is already an essential factor for the success of a sustainable development policy,. For materials whose consumption is not stabilised, i. Ackerman F. Why Do We Recycle? On the Dynamics of Recycling and Natural Resources.

    Arrow K. Are We Consuming Too Much? Bartlett A. Natural Resources Research, Vol. Chalmin Ph. Gaillochet Dourille E. G8 Kerry Smith V. Krautkraemer J. Nonrenewable Resource Scarcity. Journal of Economic Literature, Vol. Michel J. July-August Maddison A. OECD Measuring material flows and resource productivity.

    Synthesis report. Rees J. United Nations USGS U. Geological Survey: Mineral Commodity. Summaries Walls M. Wernick I. Materialization and Dematerialization: Measures and Trends. Daedalus 3 : The issue under consideration is to calculate the length of the time lag between aggregate consumption of virgin material, with or without recycling, depending on the assumptions for the consumption dynamics of total raw material. We are considering exclusively a given natural material, metal, for example and we assume a total consumption by human society growing at an annual constant rate.

    The material has a residence time in the economic circuit before it becomes waste: the time of its distribution and use as consumer goods, or depending on the life time of the investments involved. Obviously, its duration varies considerably depending on use in each particular case. A portion of the material present in the waste is recycled.

    The effectiveness of recycling is described as the "recycling rate", defined as follows: the portion of the deposit of that material effectively present in all types of waste which is recycled. Since we are in a growth economy, this amount will necessarily take into account the duration of residence time of the material. By definition, the quantity of material present in waste is the total quantity which was consumed a few years previously — the difference being the residence time in the economy.

    In fact, the "missing" third is in no way to be blamed on a faulty recycling system; it is simply the inevitable effect of growth in consumption over time. The recycling rate, in the meaning of this model, is therefore to be taken as the proportion of the million tonnes available in waste which is effectively recycled.


    • Sorting things out.
    • ANNEX A: Determining the length of the time lag in aggregate consumption.
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    • We shall calculate the gap in aggregate consumption, that is, depending on the recycling rate, the time difference between the aggregate consumption curves, with or without recycling. The latter is equal to the product of the recycling rate by the mass of material available in waste, i. To simplify calculation, reasoning will be based on year n-1 instead of year n:.

      Finally, if n tends to infinity, that is if we consider the maximum time lag attained after a great number of years, we arrive at the limit at:. We finally arrive, for the limit gap for aggregate consumption with or without recycling, at the following formula:. We can then easily calculate the recycling rate R required to obtain a given gap d:.

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      The case of a reduction in needs uses the same geometric sequence modelling method. In this instance, we are not seeking to define the consumption gap which is not very relevant. In the presence of an exponential decline, aggregate consumption over time is limited by a given multiple of consumption in the first year.

      The problem of decline therefore involves defining the influence of recycling on that multiple, that is the number of years of initial consumption represented by "infinite" aggregate consumption, with or without recycling. The same assumptions and definitions are used as in the problem considered in annex Anomalies are not represented.

      And CCI Dijon. Challenges, January 29th, Le Monde, September 8th, Les Echos, September 14th, S [Online], 3. A multidisciplinary journal devoted to the study of interactions between environment and society. Contents - Previous document - Next document. Abstract Since the s, recycling of waste has become a core element of sustainable development.

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      Outline 1. Limits of recycling in an expanding economy. Recycling today in the event of a curb on future consumption. Stabilisation or regression in the need for raw materials. Decoupling economic development from materiality. The appropriate role of recycling. Resources and recycling: an adjustment of priorities. Editor's notes This paper has been reviewed by two anonymous referees.