TECNALIA reveals the keys to the circular economy through its experts at EITB

15 December 2021

Eliminating disposable goods and recycling to foster the circular economy; the challenge facing companies

The Basque Country generates more than six million tonnes of waste a year, which is enough to bury La Concha beach in San Sebastian. At TECNALIA, we are working on the recovery of waste that may be difficult to recycle: batteries from electric or electronic devices or permanent magnets that are found in the motors of wind turbines in the wind sector.

Guillermo del Pozo, one of our experts in waste recovery, explains to us that "we currently have the knowledge and technological development to recycle practically everything we set our minds to: recycling of glass, some types of plastic, such as PET, or aluminium. These products have a high recyclability rate".

Jokin Hidalgo highlights "our ability to recycle lithium, which is produced in Chile, rare earths, 90% of which are produced in China or, cobalt from the batteries that are mainly produced in the Congo. The environmental impact of the mining, transport and purification of these materials is high. It is necessary to separate the waste in the best possible way so that it can be recycled optimally".

Waste recovery

The circular economy is an economic model that implies that waste must be reincorporated into new life cycles, among other aspects. In this way, its useful life is extended, which reduces waste and the consumption of new raw materials.

A major effective change needs to be made: instead of extracting a natural resource to produce a raw material from which a product will be made, which will end up in the rubbish or in a landfill at the end of its useful life, waste or, even better, by-products will be used to obtain these raw materials.

Spiral economy: industrial symbiosis

It is necessary to recycle these elements in order to be more independent and not to depend on other countries for the supply of these raw materials. Embedded in the structure of mobile phones, for example, there are precious metals, such as gold, platinum, palladium to critical materials, such as rare earths in the screen, in the magnets that generate movement

The circular economy considers that everything can be recycled. However, the recycling efficiency may be affected. This new concept of spiral economy considers that, for example, on recycling a product or a component of a product, this component can be reused in another industrial sector. We are talking about a concept that is known as industrial symbiosis, whereby plastic from an automobile, for example, can be recycled to generate a new product or a chair, and so on.