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Times of change

Von Wiley-VCH zur Verfügung gestellt

We are living in a time characterized by sudden, life-changing, and unpredictable events. The Covid crisis with drastic lockdowns, the war in Ukraine and the disruption of supply chains, and massive worldwide environmental issues resulting from climate change are examples only from the last few years. The current energy crisis has heavily impacted consumers and put the focus on energy resources, highlighting how easy it has been to take fossil fuels and renewable energy, bulk and special minerals for the building of the green energy sector, and even the human cost for granted. Now, we have suddenly realized that our current economic system not only massively relies on the rising demand for resources to tackle the current challenges but also needs rethinking to drive the change and transformation ahead of us to overcome our biggest threat – climate change.

A recent study by the Öko-Institut found that in Germany the resource demand was 30 % higher than the global average in 2019. The linear way of mining, processing, using, and disposing valuable resources exacerbates environmental problems, amplifies climate change, leads to degradation of soil, increases water scarcity, and reduces biological diversity. We clearly cannot continue along the same path and, as in the past, mankind will overcome these challenges. To do so will require a multifaceted and comprehensive approach. Besides improvement in the extraction of raw materials, we need to quickly transition to a circular economy, which will lead to reductions of greenhouse gases, resources, and land usage. In turn, this will reduce the costs for renewable energy and make regions less dependent on valuable resources.

How can this transformation look like? What must be achieved? The reduce, reuse, and recycle approach encourages the efficient use of resources through reducing waste, reusing products, and increasing recycling rates, which reduces the need for extracting new raw materials and minimizes the environmental impact. Circular economy maximizes the value of resources by keeping them in use for as long as possible. Products are made for durability, repairability, and recyclability, and systems are implemented enabling the recovery and reuse of materials. Sustainable mining and extraction practices minimizing environmental damage and prioritizing responsible sourcing are key. Technologies and processes that reduce energy consumption, water usage, and ecosystem disruption are promoted. Alternative materials with lower environmental impacts are developed and raw materials derived from non-renewable sources replaced. Industries are encouraged to adopt new energy-efficient technologies and processes. Investments are made in R+D efforts finding innovative solutions for reducing raw material demand, developing new materials, improving recycling technologies, and advancing sustainable production methods, including carbon capture and utilization (CCU), as well as in artificial intelligence. Sustainable consumption patterns are promoted, and awareness is being raised among consumers about environmental impacts. Responsible purchasing decisions, supporting sustainable product certifications, and consumer education about the importance of resource conservation are normalized. International cooperation to address the global demand for raw materials and climate change is fostered. Policies and regulations that incentivize sustainable practices, promote responsible resource management, and discourage unsustainable extraction methods are established.

This transformation requires collective efforts from governments, businesses, individuals, and the scientific community. Collaboration, innovation, and a shift towards sustainable practices are crucial to achieve a more resource-efficient and environmentally conscious future. Chemistry will play a decisive role.

Dr. Stefan Pirker, Vizepräsident der GÖCH, Head of Circular Economy Innovation, OMV


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