Sustainable Material Management – Necessary Steps to Secure Future Access to Materials

By Mattias Jönsson

31 August, 2021

Sustainable material management

Gadgets, technology, modernization, who is not interested in it? With every coming innovation and advancement, our lives are made easier and hassle-free. But, do you know with each technology coming in, the availability of raw materials risks having to pay the price?  In most cases when a new product is launched, a considerable number of natural resources are being consumed. Each year heaps of natural resources are literally wasted upon things that are not a priority. We must act now and the solution is sustainable material management.

Just consider the example of copper; it is the essential component for all kinds of modern electronics. However, copper is not included in the critical list of raw materials because of the good recycling system for this element that is likely to rise about 20% of the current global recycling rate. The recycling rate for copper in Germany is about 45%.

As per the CUTEC (Clausthal Institute of Environmental Technology) calculation, the static lifetime (the time length during which the natural source is expected to be available) of indium reserves could be used for just 13 more years. There is no doubt in the fact that the affluent societies are primarily responsible for raw materials being gradually used up.

With the rising income and living standards around the world, all of us will witness an increase in the consumption of fossil fuels (if the green energy sector can not meet future demand), metals, timber, minerals, food crops that are eventually building pressure on the natural resources and the environment.

So, what is the way out of this? Of course, the only solution left is going green and establishing a resource-efficient economy (circular economy). The implementation of a circular economy has become a macroeconomic challenge today. Policies that are based on the three “R” (reduce, reuse, and recycle) have become quite crucial to ensure sustainable material management (SMM).

What is Sustainable Material Management?

Sustainable material management, by definition, is the approach that makes use of sustainable materials in addition to integrating actions that are targeted towards the reduction of negative environmental impacts. It also involves efforts to preserve the natural resources throughout the lifetime of the materials while considering social equity and economic efficiency.

Implementing sustainable material management will lead to environmental improvement while reducing the resources that are used by economic activities. Sustainable material management is a great way to secure resources and competitiveness in addition to reducing the environmental impacts that would otherwise be hazardous for the environment.

Sustainable material management is the crucial constituent of a green growth strategy. The policies accounting for SMM ensure that the natural resources are not demanded increasingly and are under better security. The decoupling of economic growth resulting from natural resource consumption finds its solution in the sustainable material management policies and practices.

Challenges for Sustainable Material Management

As per the modern industrial supply chains that are extending all around the world, the sustainable material management policies have to fulfill the responsibility of ensuring that the environmental impacts are prevented from shifting across the international boundaries via the mechanism of outsourcing. Here comes the double challenge for sustainable material management to account for the full material impacts throughout the life cycle of the product that includes agriculture, mining, transportation, etc.

Another difficulty in the way of sustainable material management is the interdependence between the natural resources and the material used, such as water and energy. The proposed policies for sustainable material management should ensure that unintended consequences are avoided as per this interdependence. One such proposal was to replace non-renewable resources such as petrolatum with renewable bio-based.

Productive Outcomes of Sustainable Material Management

Sustainable material management plays a significant role in pulling off ways to secure future access to materials. Below are some of the productive outcomes.

Reduction of Life-Cycle Environmental Impacts and Improvement in Coherent Policy

Sustainable material management is the most productive way of reducing the environmental impacts that may occur by the release of toxic materials, in addition to limiting human exposure. The quantities of resources that need to be extracted are significantly reduced by sustainable material management , thereby diminishing the pressure on natural resources.

It ensures that the social, economic, and environmental balances are maintained throughout the life cycle of the product. This results in the prevention of negative impacts being shifted from the production phase to the consumption phase and vice versa.

The Reduction of Dependency upon Raw Material

You must have witnessed the rising prices of various natural resources where the countries producing it have restricted its export. Now what? Sustainable material management has the solution for this too. Sustainable material management reduces this pressure by reducing the total consumption of primary material and thereby improving resource productivity, ultimately ensuring material supply. This could be achieved by each unit of material and returning the material that has reached the end of its life cycle through recycling.

Enhanced Competitiveness at Reduced Cost

More efficient and sustainable materials are managed more is the chances of enhancing competitiveness by low input costs. Improvement in the manufacturing process of various products could not only lead to lesser waste production but also reduce the number of resources used throughout the manufacturing. In short, it results in unexploited resources and increased efficiency.

Principles of Sustainable Material Management Leading to Resource Security

Preservation of Natural Capital

Human depends upon mayoral capital, and therefore healthy ecosystem and natural resources are crucial in this regard. Sustainable material management principles ensure the long-term sustainability of resources and their preservation for not only today’s generation but for the future generation as well.

  1. It improves information about environmental impacts and material flows
  2. Increase in resource efficiency and productivity
  3. Increase use of recycling/reuse (implementation of circular economy) of materials in order to conserve the natural capital
  4. Bringing in technologies that are able to obtain material from natural resources by eliminating waste and supporting ecosystem health

Designing and Managing Materials, Processes and Products for Sustainability and Safety

The designing stage is quite crucial as it determines impacts throughout the life-cycle. The sustainable material management policy ensures that negative impacts to the environment are minimized. Each of the life-cycle stages is managed with safety and sustainability, where efforts are made to avoid the shift of risk from one stage in the value chain to the other. The social and economic outcomes are optimized while natural capital is preserved.

Design strategies that support sustainable material management include:

  1. Detoxification eliminates the buildup of compounds or chemicals produced by a society that might have negative impacts on the health of humans. Detoxification makes use of green chemistry that works by the process of chemical substitution.
  2. Design for value recovery promotes reuse and recycling of products and indicates an effective model of recovery.
  3. Dematerialization is doing more with less, and it refers to resource efficiency without even compromising the quality of the service provided. It also includes the strategies of material substitution and replacement of products with services.

Diversified Policy to Reinforce Sustainable Environmental, Social and Economic Outcomes

In order to prevent material wastage, there is a need to shift humankind towards sustainable material management. A variety of policy instruments such as trade and innovation policies, economic incentives and disincentives, regulations, information sharing, and partnerships could be leveraged by the government while shifting towards sustainable material management.

Engagement of all Parts of Society to Achieve Sustainable Outcomes

Sustainable material management ensures that all of the players across the life-cycle of the material are involved. This results in collaborative efforts to design systemic solutions that are further enhanced by the cultivation of:

  1. Ethical perspective
  2. Flows of open information
  3. Engagement and collaboration with multilateral stakeholder

Is Circular Economy Different?

A circular economy has a significant role when it comes to preserving natural resources and securing their access to future generations. The circular economy involves the processes of production, consumption, repair, reuse, and recycle before it finally gets into wastage. These three “R” (reuse, repair, and regenerate) are crucial to bringing sustainability and conservation of natural resources.

Following are the principles on which circular economy works.

Designing Waste and Pollution

During the designing stage, the factors impacting the environment are identified. The more prominent aspect here is the waste that, through circular design, is either not created or is made easy to be recycled.

Regeneration of Our Natural Systems

Waste reduction is not the only thing to consider; it is crucial that we focus on enriching our natural resources. For example, we could create a product that could easily be returned to earth to provide us nutrients, just like a dead leaf feeding the soil.

Keeping Materials in Use

Upon implementing the three “R” (reuse, repair, and regenerate), we could easily stop wasting the resources and usage of raw materials. The piled-up waste could get a new life just by recycling it.

The Bottom Line

Natural resources are no doubt the fuel for our lives. Keeping it reserved and conserving it for our future generation and business should be our priority. The strategies to secure materials include the implementation of sustainable material management and circular economy. Both of these ensures that the natural resources are being used optimally while taking into account the three “R” (reuse, repair, and regenerate).

If you would like to initiate a dialogue with us regarding the topic or would like to take part of the presentation after the master class, please contact us.