The latest phase of the European Commission’s Generation Awake campaign focuses on the environmental, economic, social and personal consequences of using resources unsustainably. It aims to make consumers aware of how their consumption patterns can have a negative impact on natural resources and illustrate the benefits if they choose to act differently.

Reducing, reusing and recycling waste is key to a vibrant economy and a healthy environment.Reducing, reusing and recycling waste is key to a vibrant economy and a healthy environment.

Despite EU-wide recycling targets and successes in certain areas, Europe’s waste is still a hugely underused resource.

A study prepared for the European Commission estimates that full implementation of EU waste legislation would save €72 billion a year, increase the annual turnover of the EU’s waste management and recycling sector by €42 billion and create over 400,000 new jobs by 2020.

Behind the light-hearted campaign is a serious message: waste often contains valuable materials that can be reintroduced into the economic system. Today, a significant amount of potential secondary raw material is lost to the EU’s economy due to poor waste management.

In 2010 total waste production in the EU amounted to 2,520 million tons, an average of five tons per inhabitant per year.

By reducing, reusing and recycling waste, one can contribute to a vibrant economy and a healthy environment. This saves environ-mental and economic resources, helping to push Europe towards a more circular economy, where we get the greatest value out of resources and products by repairing, reusing, remanufacturing and recycling them.

The Generation Awake campaign is one element in a broad EU effort to make the European economy more resource-efficient

The Generation Awake campaign is one element in a broad EU effort to make the European eco-nomy more resource-efficient. The campaign primarily targets consumers aged 25 to 40 and supports policies designed to mobilise public authorities, businesses and individual consumers.

It underlines the urgency of seeing waste as a resource rather than a burden and to highlight the opportunities of transitioning to a circular economy.

The EU has made good progress to protect the environment in recent decades: water and air are significantly cleaner than they were and more of Europe’s nature is protected than ever before. However, we face a major challenge in the way we use resources and consume goods. We need to create more value using fewer inputs and we need to reduce costs while minimising our impact on the environment.

Resource efficiency is a key component of Europe 2020, the EU’s strategy to address the challenges we face today and develop a smart, sustainable and inclusive economy for Europe.

Europe 2020 gave rise to seven flagship initiatives, including the resource efficiency initiative, launched in 2011. This established resource efficiency as the guiding principle for policies on energy, transport, climate change, industry, commodities, agriculture, fisheries, biodiversity and regional development.

A road map to a resource-efficient Europe was published later in 2011, setting out how Europe can transform to become a sustainable economy by 2050.

Other proposals dealt with the low-carbon economy, energy and transport, reform of agriculture and fisheries, biodiversity, and commodities and raw materials.

Making production processes more efficient and improving the systems we use to manage the environment can significantly reduce pollution and waste and save water and other resources. This is good for business too, as it can cut operating costs and reduce dependency on raw materials.

This is the thinking behind the green (or circular) economy, a system that optimises the flow of goods and services to get the most out of raw materials and cuts waste to the absolute minimum.

In the green economy, materials are divided by type. Biological materials – food, vegetal waste, wood and textile fibres – are consumed and then returned to the environment as compost or fertiliser to restore nutrients to the soil and/or processed to produce renewable energy.

Technical materials are maintained, reused, refurbished or recycled over and over again in a closed-loop system. The system is energy-efficient and uses renewable energy as far as poss-ible, reducing emissions of greenhouse gases.

The green economy will require a departure from the ‘take-make-dispose’ approach to manufacturing. It will create a new dynamic in all sectors. There will be demand for innov-ation in product design and manufacturing as we seek to develop a new generation of products that have extended lives and that can be reused, repaired, dismantled and their components reused or recycled.

Governments and businesses will need to help the working population develop new skills to meet the demands of a green economy.

Shifting to a green economy will also help provide leadership to a global economy in desperate need of solutions to the challenges of a growing population, scarce resources and a degraded natural environment.

Source: European Environment Agency

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