We are all familiar with the terms ‘production’ and ‘consumption’ and both are key elements in our day-to-day lives.
Goods are produced, which we then buy and use. But once a product has reached the end of its useful life, it needs to be disposed of. It is at this point that we begin to see how far away we are from achieving a sustainable circular economy, and we start to realize that the resources available to us for the production of goods are finite. There is also a significant imbalance in the costs associated with disposal, with far more money spent on the destruction of end-of-use products than on their recycling or reuse.
So why do we behave like this?
Put simply: it's the way we were brought up. For decades the motto was simply ‘sell more, buy more’ – no matter what the cost. But it wasn’t all that long ago that people felt it was wrong just to throw something away when it was no longer needed.
The long-term consequences of just dumping waste material can no longer be overlooked. The negative impact on the natural world – and thus on human society – and the financial costs involved in managing vast quantities of waste will have to borne by future generations. The fact that significant amounts of waste are also dumped in unregistered, unknown landfills only makes the situation worse.
Waste incineration has provided a partial solution to the landfill problem by recovering thermal energy from these end-of-use materials, but as the process of combustion essentially destroys these materials it prevents them from ever being reintroduced into the production cycle.
The existence of recycling centres show that other approaches are possible. But in many cases important questions such as: ‘Which end-of-use products should be collected?’, ‘How should collection be carried out?’, ‘How can the materials they contain be recovered or reused?’ remain unanswered. As a result, recycling is often not taken seriously enough, something that becomes readily apparent when one looks at the numbers of people actually going to recycling centres.
This situation can be changed by identifying where the weaknesses with traditional recycling centres lie and by setting out a few guidelines on how they can be improved. This is an important step forward towards implementing a meaningful circular economy.
Modern facilities must aim to collect individual materials and end-of-use products, not quantities of mixed waste. The better these products are sorted and separated, the easier it is to reintroduce them into the circular economy. By adopting quality criteria of this kind, the efficiency with which materials are recycled and reused can be improved markedly.
The logistical structure of a collection centre is also a critical factor. Careful planning and design at an early stage avoids the need for future changes, saving significant subsequent expenditure.
If a collection centre operates smoothly and efficiently, offering visitors advice and assistance, the number of people using that facility will rise compared with other local waste collection institutions or services.
There are therefore many good reasons for improving the quality of recycling centres and giving modern, high-quality, service-oriented centres the significance and recognition they deserve. It was for these reasons that the we introduced and developed the RAL quality assurance mark ‘RAL GZ 950 Reverse Production’. It is the only quality audit scheme that exists in the entire sector.
Service providers who achieve the RAL GZ 950 quality mark have indicated their professionalism and expertise in this environmentally and economically important area. We look forward to helping you upgrade your collection and recycling centre to meet the needs of the circular economy.
Chairman of the RAL GZ 950 Quality Assurance Association for Reverse Production
Local and municipal waste management service providers are usually the first to have access to consumer items that are being disposed of because they are no longer needed or no longer used. These products represent a major materials resource for the future. Local and municipal authorities also play a central role, perhaps even the most important role, when it come to implementing the relevant EU environmental regulations regarding these products and materials.
Local policy makers looking to introduce and operate a ‘circular economy’ need to deliver on multiple fronts: achieving resource conservation goals, boosting waste-avoidance strategies (e.g. by encouraging greater re-use) and meeting the following requirements:
‘A circular economy aims to maintain the value of products, materials and resources for as long as possible and minimise the generation of waste.’
Excerpt from a press
release issued by the European Commission
(16 January 2018)
Reverse Consumption centres (RCCs) represent the first link in the chain.
Products are made, consumed and at some point reach the end of their useful life. Maximizing the re-introduction of these end-of-use (EOU) products into the circular economy is one of society's primary environmental goals.
The RAL Institute for Quality Assurance and Certification [RAL Deutsches Institut für Gütesicherung und Kennzeichnung e. V.] – , which is headquartered in Bonn, Germany, has overseen the development of a new quality mark ‘GZ 950 – Reverse Production’ that is designed to help achieve this important environmental objective.
The new term ‘reverse consumption’ is understood to mean the body of measures used to manage end-of-use products: receiving them from the final owners, storing them, and then packing and preparing them for onward transport prior to their reintroduction into the circular economy supply chains.
Reverse Consumption is the take-back of end-of-use consumer goods organized in a way that mirrors the service criteria that apply in the consumer retail sector. Reverse Consumption is the service-driven, user-friendly implementation of the circular economy model.
The Reverse Consumption Centre is the first link in the chain that delivers a service-driven, user-friendly implementation of the circular economy model.
The quality assurance requirements and test specifications that underlie the RAL GZ 950 quality mark are available from the publisher Beuth Verlag.
The RAL GZ 950 quality mark ‘Reverse Consumption’ unifies the requirements of a circular economy with the needs of the public by certifying high-quality Reverse Consumption Centres, at which members of the public can return end-of-life consumer products in a simple and user-friendly way while also being offered information and advice on waste and waste avoidance issues.
Reverse Consumption Centres (RCCs) are at the very core of the Reverse Consumption concept and are designed to ensure the efficient and sustainable take-back of end-of-use (EOU) products. RCCs can be either publicly or privately run. Reverse Consumption Centres are static facilities that are designed and constructed as ‘drop-off’ or ‘bring’ systems for end-of-use products. RCC operations include the collection, sorting and storage of end-of-use products and their subsequent repacking and shipment to enable their reintroduction into the circular economy. RCCs also include a separate second-hand area designed so that EOU products that are still fully functional can be taken for immediate reuse.
The RAL GZ 950 quality assurance protocol provides stakeholders with a practically implementable instrument for achieving these recycling targets.
RAL GZ 950 aims to promote sustainability and to safeguard the environment for future generations.
Advising the public about the reverse consumption and waste prevention strategies is a key element of the RAL GZ 950 standard. The information and advisory services are designed to stimulate the purchase of sustainable and environmentally friendly products, not just to members of the public bringing end-of-use products to a Reverse Consumption Centre , but to everyone living within the centre’s catchment area.
Communications and customer advisory services make use of the same elements deployed in product advertising campaigns. The communications strategy for a reverse consumption scheme therefore needs to make use of the same media channels used in advertising campaigns for new consumer products (press, radio, television, brochures, etc.).
The fraction of end-of-use products that are accepted at a Reverse Consumption Centre (RCC) and subsequently sent for reuse or reintroduction into production supply chains is calculated using the ‘product potential method’ as detailed in the RAL GZ 950 Quality Assurance and Test Specifications. The ‘product potential’ concept was developed in Luxembourg and provides a means for RAL auditors to annually assess the quality of the services being provided by RAL-approved RCCs. Leading RCCs use the RAL-specific methodology to highlight the quality of the services they provide and to underscore the contributions being made to environmental sustainability.
The resulting ‘product potential’ score for individual end-of-use products is made available at the reception points of RCCs and offers guidance to RCC users on the quality of the services being provided. RCC users are made directly aware of how they are personally contributing to an ecologically sustainable resource base and the role they are playing in achieving circular-economy objectives.
Reverse Consumption Centres are subjected to annual quality auditing.
The auditing procedures are based on approved procedures set out in the RAL GZ 950 Quality Assurance and Test Specifications. Detailed information on the auditing process is available in Section 4 and Appendix 6 of the Quality Assurance and Test Specifications.
The areas inspected are weighted as follows:
-Reception, collection and sorting of end-of-use products
-Storage, handling and safety
-Appearance and service quality at the RCC
-Reverse consumption operations
-Information and advice on waste prevention
-Management of the Reverse Consumption Centre
The quality audit covers in total 96 inspection and test items. The final audit score in percent reflects the weighted sum of the results achieved in the six categories above.
There are three levels for the RAL GZ 950 quality mark:
The certification programmes include RAL QUALITY MARKS, RAL COLOURS, RAL ENVIRONMENTAL with the ‘Blue Angel’ ecolabel and RAL LOGO LICENSING. The widespread acceptance of RAL reflects the extensive experience that it has gathered over many years. The first RAL quality mark was issued back in 1925, the internationally respected RAL colour standard celebrated its 90th anniversary in 2017, while the ‘Blue Angel’ celebrated its 40th birthday in 2018.
RAL quality marks provide certification for thousands of products and services by verifying that they have been manufactured or marketed in accordance with stringent quality assurance specifications. There are currently about 160 RAL quality marks, ranging from A for ‘Anti-graffiti products’ to Z for ‘Zinc die casting’. So how does anyone keep track? Simple: The list we have compiled classifies the quality marks into different groups, displays the associated logo, tells you the name of the quality assurance association with responsibility for managing the mark, and identifies the associated quality assurance and test specifications.
The ‘Blue Angel’ is the world's oldest environmental quality label for products and services. RAL is the only body with the authority to issue this respected ecolabel. And RAL is also authorized to award the European environmental label ‘EU Ecolabel’.
Further information about the RAL GZ 950 Quality Assurance and Test Specifications and about applying for GZ 950 inspection and auditing procedures is available from:
Tel. +49 172 28 885 37