Mr Kälin, what does Cradle­-to-­Cradle® mean in terms of e­recycling?

Albin Kälin: The term “lifecycles” is used when talking about electrical and electronic appliances (products). The lifecycle starts off with the product’s design, followed by its usage and, finally, its recycling. Nowadays many products are designed and manufactured with a view towards preserving valuable resources. Recycling takes place in the SENS system in accord- ance with the very latest in technology. That said, the proportion of materials which cannot be recovered in their original quality remains much too high. Consequently, the current system fails to close the material cycle completely.
The Cradle-to-Cradle® concept demonstrates a way in which resources can be recovered and their quality maintained. This is a transformation from a linear to a cyclical material flow.

In this way, the value of all the materials in biological or technical cycles is maintained. Other factors integrated into Cradle-to-Cradle® are water, renewable energies and social responsibility. The challenges for electrical and electronic appliances are particularly great because they are complex appliances. The cooperation project between EPEA Switzerland and the SENS Foundation seeks to demonstrate and implement the Cradle-to-Cradle® approach in electrical and electronic appliances.

Resource efficiency and sustainability are key elements in e­recycling. How should the Cradle­-to­-Cradle® approach be assessed in this context?

Now that resources (end-of-life appliances) are collected and recycled with ever greater efficiency by the SENS system, we are taking a step further with the Cradle-to-Cradle® concept, over and beyond sustainability:

Losses occur from when the products are in the cradle, so to speak, i.e. when they are manufactured, and waste and emissions accrue unavoidably at the “grave” if the resources are not recovered effectively after the products are used.

we are also increasing the
effectiveness of resources. In future we will not only dispose of problem materials from the material cycle, but also define those products with “safe chemistry” and put the materials to positive use (e.g. using carbon dioxide as a foodstuff).

Closing raw material cycles is pivotal to sustainable e­recycling. How does the Cradle­-to-­Cradle® approach affect the closing of cycles and how would it work?

The aim of the Cradle-to-Cradle® approach is to preserve materials in their original quality over several lifecycles. Product design is geared towards the selection of materials, with due regard for the aim of preserving their quality over several life- cycles. Raw materials are selected, treated and processed accordingly. In some areas, the material costs may prove to be more expensive than with conventional products.
This provides businesses with a safeguard against rises in the prices of raw materials and assures them of raw material quality.

SENS_en
Source: SENS Foundation Annual Report 2012

What roles are played by EPEA Switzerland and SENS Foundation and by SENS partners (manufacturers, traders, importers, collection points and recycling companies)?

→ The manufacturer designs the product and produces it in accordance with the Cradle-to-Cradle® concept. It knows the volumes of appliances on the market and the materials asso- ciated with them. Depending on the distribution concept, the manufacturer integrates the importers and traders into the sales chain.

→ The traders and the SENS collection points take back the end-of-life Cradle-to-Cradle® products along with other products and pass them on to the SENS recycling company.

→ The SENS recycling company detects Cradle-to-Cradle® products (using RFID, for instance) and passes them on to a SENS recycling company operating the Cradle-to-Cradle® process.

→ The SENS recycling company operating the Cradle-to-Cradle® process identifies the products and disassembles them correctly in accordance with the manufacturer’s instructions. The components and materials are passed on to downstream stations where they are processed accordingly and reworked into new components.

However, the materials are recovered thanks to the SENS system and can be re­processed and reused. This scenario allows industry to re­obtain and use raw materials previously used and paid for by the consumer.

→ The manufacturer creates a new Cradle-to-Cradle® product from the processed materials and components.

→ The closure of the Cradle-to-Cradle® product cycle is financed via the SENS system. The SENS Foundation makes the necessary payments.

→ As the knowledge trustee, EPEA Switzerland safeguards confidential information and implements Cradle-to-Cradle® along the supply chain with industry.

Where do you think the future challenges lie in e­recycling and how can/should they be responded to?

The Cradle-to-Cradle® design applies the “quality before quantity” principle to industrial systems. Materials and material flows are designed to lend themselves to the regeneration and preservation of their biological and technical sources.

This approach releases us from our current obligation to mitigate or decelerate detrimental environmental effects. Consequently, it may also disengage us from the current culture of guilt. The decision to make material quality the overarching factor and taking this into consideration efficiently in manufacturing processes cre- ates valuable economic possibilities.

What steps do you take in your daily life
to take care of resources?

Like everyone, I more or less make an effort to use resources sparingly in my everyday life, although closing the cycle has to be the way forward. I have been working on it full time for 20 years.