INTERNATIONAL: European Congress Explores Resource Management

Recovery, recycling and re-integration was the focus of the R'95 Congress on integrated resources management. The decision to host R'95 in Geneva, the city of the sixteenth-century Reformers, seems prophetic. What better place to set another reformation in motion - this time in waste management?

Switzerland's state secretary for science explained the reason for the focus: "Very often, materials re-cycling is regarded as the only op-tion for recovering economic values from waste streams." But a more integrated approach (see diagram) is re-quired to manage the waste streams efficiently and to minimize their economic and ecological impacts on society and environment, he said. "This includes all methods of processing waste materials, leading to re-integration of the streams into the e-conomy."

The Congress covered a full range of recovery, recycling and valorization topics and emphasized the relevant processes for all materials and products, rather than the materials and products themselves. The Congress was a forum for industry, science, politicians, consumers and legal bodies to try to understand one another's positions and possible solutions. Participants discussed issues such as ecological necessity, economic and social acceptance and political feasibility.

Following an opening session on the broad issues of integrated re-sources management, there were 16 additional sessions which covered:

* regulatory issues;

* designs for avoidance, sustainability and recycled materials;

* logistics of networks and separation technologies;

* biological, thermal, chemical and mechanical processes;

* hospital waste valorization;

* national and regional integrated waste management;

* design of products from recycled materials; and

* life cycle analysis and recycling limits.

The categories of materials and products covered in the sessions included automotives, electronics, plastics, chemicals, metals, glass, composites, organic and fibrous materials and hospital solid waste.

Even though new waste treatment techniques are being developed throughout the world, few opportunities exist to exchange knowledge of integrated resource management solutions, said Dr. Anis Barrage of the Swiss Federal Laboratories for Materials Testing and Research (EMPA). "Specialized conferences ... rarely lead to concrete implementation. [This Con-gress's] objective was to offer an interdisciplinary and international platform where communication can take place" to solve problems that go beyond national borders.

Indeed, Switzerland is a leader in integrated resources management and, as a practice, it views recovery holistically. Switzerland claims to have the oldest recycling tradition among Western industrialized na-tions, as well as the highest rate of waste incineration with energy re-covery. In addition, substantial a-mounts of organic waste are recovered by composting.

Switzerland has achieved a solid waste recycling rate of 40 percent by relying on voluntary measures and cooperation from producers, distributors and consumers. How-ever, this rate is not completely free of costs, as Dr. Jan Schmitt-Tegge explained in his paper. The collection of used glass, paper, paperboard and bimetal is estimated to cost communities SFr 40 million (approximately U.S. $32.6 million) per year.

The EMPA organized the Con-gress in cooperation with four other scientific organizations.