The report from the European Environment Agency (EEA) examined the economic benefits of recycling in the context of building a green economy and found that the sector can help meet the material demands of economic production by preventing the environmental impacts associated with extracting and refining virgin materials.

The study also found that revenues from recycling are substantial and growing fast. From 2004 to 2008 the turnover of seven main categories of recyclables almost doubled to more than 60bn euros in the EU.

This growth is being driven by increasing demand for recyclables, as booming Asian economies help to push up the price of materials. Another driver has been EU waste directives – as a consequence, the amount of recyclables sorted and placed on the market has increased 15 % between 2004 and 2009.

In addition, more jobs at higher income levels are created by recycling than compared to landfilling or incinerating waste. Overall employment related to the recycling of materials in European countries increased by 45 % between 2000 and 2007.

While recycling already meets substantial proportions of demand for some resource groups, notably paper and cardboard, and iron and steel, it is particularly valuable in securing supplies of critical resources such as rare metals which are essential for new technologies such as e-mobility, communication and renewable energy.

Imports of precious metal waste into Europe increased 50% between 2000 and 2009 – the only group of recyclable materials which grew significantly during this period. However these metals are characterised by dissipative use, meaning that they are used in small amounts in a multitude of applications and products. Existing recycling infrastructure has not yet focused on this problem and so many of these metals are lost.

Maxine Perella

Action inspires action. Stay ahead of the curve with sustainability and energy newsletters from edie