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Aluminium, cotton and lithium needlessly wasted, new report shows

11 February 2013
by foeeurope -- last modified 14 February 2013

Europe is failing to manage its resources sustainably, unnecessarily sending valuable materials to incineration and landfill, according to a report published today (Thursday February 14) by Friends of the Earth Europe.


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The European Union currently landfills and incinerates 60% of municipal waste. Valuable materials which could be recycled or re-used are being thrown away as rubbish, contributing to demand for more raw materials. 

In the case of textiles, for example, Europeans discard 5.8 million tonnes every year, with 75% going to landfill or incineration and only 25% being recycled.

The study concludes that in order to move to a zero-waste Europe, higher recycling targets need to be accompanied by targets for reuse and waste prevention.

Ariadna Rodrigo, resource use campaigner at Friends of the Earth Europe said: "Europe is still stuck in a system where valuable materials, many of which come at a high environmental and social cost, end up in landfill or incineration. Recycling targets are a good start, but reusing products and materials and preventing waste in the first place won't be the norm until we have EU targets for these too."

The study looks at the environmental and social impacts of the extraction, use and disposal of three commodities widely used in Europe: lithium, aluminium and cotton.

It reveals how poor waste management is contributing to Europe's unsustainable demand for imported materials. As one of the largest net importers of natural resources per capita, Europe is responsible for the destruction of the environment and the negative effects on people and communities in the countries where the materials are sourced.

The extraction of lithium in Chile, for example, is contributing to water shortages and pollution, leaving local communities struggling to grow food, as well as damaging the local flora and fauna.

The production of aluminium is responsible for 1% of global greenhouse gas emissions.

Ariadna Rodrigo continued: "There is an urgent need to fundamentally change EU policies and end our current wastefulness. Reducing waste is an easy way to increase Europe's resource efficiency. It not only contributes to cutting carbon emissions, it also creates jobs in Europe and reduces dependency on imported raw materials."

Friends of the Earth Europe believes waste prevention, and product and material reuse and recycling, with bans on landfill and incineration practices, are the best ways to achieve the sustainable use of resources in Europe. 

Above all, a good waste management system can significantly contribute to reducing the consumption of materials and products, thereby reducing the depletion of the global resource base. 

Friends of the Earth Europe is the largest grassroots environmental network in Europe, uniting more than 30 national organisations with thousands of local groups.

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