Why we need a “Paris Agreement” for recycling the Earth’s resources

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26 September, 2022




A new report by BCG and WBCSD calls for a formal global plan for material recycling and the creation of higher circularity through technology.

Geneva, 26 September 2022 – Today, the World Business Council for Sustainable Development (WBCSD) and  Boston Consulting Group (BCG) released a new report that makes a case for ‘A “Paris Agreement” for recycling the Earth’s resources’. The report outlines a set of recycling and collection objectives for eight materials that yield high levels of waste in terms of volume, value and/or environmental impact: cement and concrete, metals, biowaste, wood, paper, plastic, electronic waste (e-waste) and electric vehicle (EV) batteries. 

In the last 50 years, our consumption of the Earth’s natural resources has more than tripled to a consumption of 1.8 planets today – and that alarming rate is set to rise to an expected consumption of 2.3 planets by 2040. Yet we’re currently only recycling 25-35% of the waste streams that, by value and volume, are the most detrimental to the environment. 

The historic Paris Agreement on climate change is a good example of joint international action on a governing framework to reduce global warming. We need this kind of agreement that sets guidelines for conserving materials and resources. 

The authors estimate that bringing resource consumption within planetary boundaries by 2040 would require an additional recycling rate of 55%, meaning that 80-90% of all consumed resources are then recycled.  

The report calls for the establishment of higher levels of circularity through technology and innovation, as well as a capital expenditure of USD $2.1-2.2 trillion, which would be split between design, collection, sorting and recycling. 

Meeting the recycling levels described in the report would save 40-50 billion tonnes of emissions by 2040, equivalent to 10-15% of the remaining carbon budget as expressed in the Paris Agreement. There would also be benefits for biodiversity, including more unspoiled territory for endangered species through better forest management, less unsustainable quarrying and mining, and less contamination of water and soil due to the reduction of hazardous waste and micro-material pollution. 

“The objective of this report is to create an understanding of what it will take to decouple economic growth from resource intensity in several key products and materials. By doing so, we can contribute to a global economy that will use the Earth’s resources responsibly, preserving them for future generations.” Federico Merlo, Lead, Chemical Industry, WBCSD 

“Creating more value with fewer resources will be the largest challenge for business in the next decade. We need to increase both product circularity and use. Products that have reached end of life will need to be recycled at rates well above 80% – partially starting from 15% – given our finite resources. Those executives who decouple growth from resource extraction will be rewarded with both lasting competitive advantage and a healthier planet.” Christoph Schweizer, CEO BCG 

The report was developed by WBCSD and BCG, with active contributions from our member companies Arcadis, Arcelik, Clariant International, Rabobank Group, Holcim, Veolia, Tata Steel and Yara International, and with members of the Forest Solutions Group