Approaches in the area of consumption
Raw material efficiency in the area of consumption is a bit more challenging as countries usually avoid the promotion of reduction of consumption but try to govern consumption with the following main approaches being pursued:
a in the context of public procurement, raw material efficiency is one criterion among several sustainability criteria;
b through standards, labelling and certifications; c through awareness formation and information; and d through so-called credit or eco-points.
In many countries, public procurement is regulated by environmental standards. In the US, for example, the Environmental Preferable Purchasing Program streamlines environmental performance standards and ecolabels for federal agencies. Another example is the Federal Green Challenge, implemented by the USEPA, which fosters competition between public institutions to reduce the environmental impact (USEPA 2019a). The Republic of Korea has the Act to Promote Green Products and the Mandator}' Green Public Procurement, where in particular the second one obligates to prioritise the purchase of environmentally friendly, eco-labelled products.
Voluntary instruments, like standards, eco-labelling or certifications, are established in various countries. The labels cover different aspects, and resource efficiency is included in different ways: for example, by rewarding products (partially) made of recycled material or with low ecological impacts during production and usage. These aspects are addressed, e.g. in the Republic of Korea by the Korean Eco-label and Good-Recycled Mark (Good Recycled n.d.; KE1T1 n.d.).
Civil society and companies are addressed with educational programmes for sustainable development and programmes to raise awareness. An example of an awareness campaign in the USA is the Waste Recycling Action Program (WRAP) which targets the recycling of plastic film packaging (American Chemistr}' Council 2019). Another example is the information by the Mississippi Department of Environmental Quality on how to avoid waste of decoration and gift wrap particularly during the holiday season and between Thanksgiving and New Year (ECOS 2017). In Brazil, companies were the target group of guidelines for sustainability in consumption and production (CEBDS 2016).
The Korean government is promoting a sustainable society in its current five-year plan (PCGG 2014). Among others, the Korean Ministry of the Environmental Industry & Technology Institute (KEITI) is pursuing a distinctive approach to provide an incentive for resource-efficient consumption. By using the Green Credit Card, consumers can collect so-called Eco Points when they purchase environmentally friendly products, save energy or use public transport. The points can be used either as cash-back at participating companies or for reduced entry into public institutions. As of December 2016, a total of 15 million Green Credit Cards had been issued and 1,957 products from 224 companies were registered (Korea Bizwire 2016).
However, none of the countries under study is pursuing an absolute reduction of consumption or promoting sufficiency approaches.
Approaches in the field of recycling and circular economy
All of the studied countries are promoting the recycling of waste. Yet, the extent of the efforts varies, respectively. Almost all countries have defined recycling rates for individual waste fractions or materials, either centrally or on a local level. Comprehensive approaches on circular economy appear less frequently, although some approaches are widespread in Asian countries.
Within the frame of this monitoring, all countries mention the increase of waste volumes and the growing challenges on disposal of waste as problems. Resource efficiency in general and recycling, in particular, are considered as an approach to reduce the amount of waste. In Russia, for example, still the majority of waste is deposited. With the recent strategy for the Development of Industry of Sorting, Recycling and Treatment of Waste until 2030 and the formation of an integrated system for the treatment of urban solid waste the amount of treated urban solid waste should be raised up to 36% in 2024 compared to currently 4%. Sorting and recycling of waste are important means to reach the goal (Vedomosti, 2019; green evolution n.d.). China as a second example started recently the pilot program Zero-Waste City in order to minimise solid waste for disposal and maximise recycling in urban areas. Until 2020, an index system for waste-free cities, as well as a technical and institutional system for managing waste-free cities, is planned (ChinaDaily 2019).
Beyond minimising the problem of waste, the increase of raw material availability, both in quantity and in the number of raw materials, is an essential driver for the promotion of recycling and closing material loops. Thus, raw material importing countries are more actively implementing comprehensive approaches of the circular economy. For example, China adopted the Circular Economy Development Promotion Law in 2009, and since then, the circular economy is further developed in each of the Five-Year Plans (FYP). For the first time globally, the law explicitly aimed at decoupling as a strategic goal. Thereby, the concept of renewable resources is used to promote the recovery of metals to increase the production of secondary raw materials (Qi et al. 2016). After a period in which eco-design, clean-production strategies in companies and recycling technologies have been developed, the regulative framework for the industrial and national level was set up to implement circular economy at large scale (Qi et al. 2016). In the current 13th FYP, the Economical, intensive, and circular resource use Initiative supports 75% of national industrial parks and 50% of provincial industrial parks, implements 50 industrial centres for re-use and recycling of industrial waste and demonstration centres for raw material recycling in 100 cities (CCCCPC Central Committee of the Communist Patty’ of China 2016).
Among raw material exporting countries, the availability of raw materials has not been mentioned yet as a reason for the promotion of resource efficiency. South Africa is one of the few exceptions promoting the recycling of iron and steel in conjunction with the implementation of export restrictions for metal scrap to compensate for the declining production quotas (ITAC 2019).
The promotion of re-use and recycling comprises a high variety of materials. As the construction sector is one of the most material-intensive sectors the promotion of recycled construction materials is a prominent strategy in many of the monitored countries. South Africa, for example, promotes innovative regional building materials such as blocks of compressed earth with construction waste as part of the Rambrick project (USE-IT 2019). India, as another example, recognises the use of certified paving stones with recycled inputs already as part of the Green Rating for Integrated Habitat Assessment (GRIHA) — the Indian building certification.