Turning disused materials into raw materials – this is a topic that the political sphere and society at large will have to come to terms with in the interest of sustainability. But what exactly is sustainability, and how can one assess different recycling processes and the resultant recovery of raw materials? The Life Cycle Engineering Department has been dealing with this question in various projects ever since its establishment. Recovering material from waste is fundamentally desirable, as it saves natural resources. On the other hand, the effort involved must stand in appropriate relation to the benefits – and not only in economic, but also in ecological terms.
Recycling is ecologically advantageous as long as the environmental burden of recovering and preparing the secondary material does not outweigh that of the primary material. It is worthwhile recovering substances which are produced by intricate methods but which can be recycled in comparatively minimalistic processes. There are three crucial aspects here: first, the ecological profile of the primary materials to be replaced; second, the specific configuration of the primary and secondary production processes, both now and in the future; and third, the multidimensional meaning of the concept of »environmental impact«.