Action 17: Increasing overall raw material productivity

The transition to a resource-efficient circular economy will enable us to create more added value with fewer raw materials.

Where do we stand?

The world economy is growing steadily – and with it the global consumption of resources. This could change if we decouple economic growth from resource consumption. The German Sustainable Development Strategy defines total raw material productivity to measure how economically and efficiently resources are used. This indicator shows the ratio between the value of goods produced in Germany and the amount of raw materials used in production. The explicit goal of the Federal Government is to increase total raw material productivity by 30 per cent by 2030 compared to 2010 (German Resource Efficiency Programme). Currently, total raw material productivity is increasing by an average of about 1.6 per cent annually. The aim of FONA is to accelerate the process and contribute to an increase in total raw material productivity in Germany of at least 2 per cent annually.

What are the research needs?

Through research and innovation, we aim to ensure that products in general are used longer, that their components can be reused and that their residual materials can be recycled. In terms of recycling, we focus in particular on bulk raw materials such as plastics and construction materials, as well as on critical raw materials such as electrowon and rare-earth metals. To achieve our goal, we need 1) a product design that ensures products can be repaired and/or recycled, 2) new business models that provide incentives for companies and customers to contribute to circularity, and 3) appropriate technologies for separating and sorting, reprocessing and recycling products and materials. This requires close cooperation between science and industry (designers, product developers, manufacturers, recycling companies, retail). The involvement of consumers and consideration of the general conditions for implementation also play a key role, as does the digitalisation of material cycles.

Implementation steps and milestones

  • We are working together across ministries, in particular with the Federal Ministry for the Environment (lead management of the German Resource Efficiency Programme – ProgRess) and the Federal Ministry for Economic Affairs (lead management of the raw Materials Strategy) and are involving professional associations, Länder and NGOs in the National Resource Efficiency Platform (NaRess).
  • With our research funding, we want to strengthen German companies as leading international providers of technologies and business models in the field of recycling and the circular economy, in this way contributing to their competitiveness.
  • We have been funding innovative potential solutions with our research priority on a resource-efficient circular economy since 2019: from the design of an asset, through its use for as long as possible, to the separation and recycling of its materials and components.
  • In 2019, we launched a funding priority on innovative product life cycles. Measures on (a) construction and mineral material cycles and (b) plastics recycling will follow from 2020.
  • Through the ‘Circular Economy Initiative Deutschland’ (CEID) of the National Academy of Science and Engineering (acatech), we will fund the development of a roadmap for a circular economy in Germany until 2021. An extension of the CEID to the whole of the EU is under discussion.
  • The effectiveness of resource-efficient economic cycles can be weakened by the rebound effect. This is why we are funding projects as part of our Social-ecological Research programme that analyse and suggest measures for minimising rebound effects. The results of these projects will be presented from 2021 onwards.
  • We are involved in the implementation of the EU’s Circular Economy Action Plan (CEAP) and are expanding Germany’s leading role. On the European level, we are cooperating in a transnational research and innovation programme on raw materials for sustainable development and the circular economy.

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