Human consumption: The driver of all TOMRA activity


Human consumption of the world’s natural resources is the driver of all TOMRA activity and helps to shape our mission to optimize resource productivity.

By Stefan Ranstrand, President and Chief Executive Officer, TOMRA Systems ASA

Global resources are under unprecedented pressure as the global population expands. Put simply, the number of people across the world who are driving consumption is greater than the planet’s ability to sustainably support them based on current efficiency levels.

People are the driver of all business activity, but at TOMRA our work is as much concerned with educating people about how to think and act differently as it is with helping them achieve their ever-changing goals and needs.

This balance helps to ensure that future generations have the knowledge and tools available to bring about optimal resource productivity, while also using cutting-edge technology to help deal with today’s challenges and lay the foundations to achieve these aims.

Current approaches

Sustainable consumption is one of the 17 United Nations Sustainable Development Goals (UN SDGs), which were set out to help bring countries and their citizens together and collaborate on long-term objectives to improve the planet for all those who live on it.

In order to consume sustainably, it is important to look at the global population’s current approach to natural resources and how they are used and reused.

According to UN estimates, the global population will reach 9.6 billion by 2050. In order to sustain current lifestyles, this will require almost three times as many natural resources as the world is capable of providing, which is simply not an option.

With food, water, materials and energy consumption all rising at a rapid pace, the world needs a way to more sustainably harness and use these resources while also ensuring steps are in place to decrease reliability at the same time.

Population imbalance

Different populations and cultures each use resources in different ways, and there are striking differences between patterns across the globe.

The campaign group Friends of the Earth (FOE) estimates that humans currently extract and use around 50 percent more natural resources than only 30 years ago, at about 60 billion metric tons of raw materials a year. To put this into context, it is the equivalent weight of 40 Empire State Buildings.

However, the majority of consumption is still taking place in developed countries, with wealthy nations consuming up to 10 times more natural resources than those in developing areas.

Someone living in North America consumes an average of 90kg of resources while going about their everyday life, compared to 45kg in Europe and only 10kg per day in Africa. Although work is underway to address this, with a 30 percent reduction in the amount of resources required to produce one dollar of GDP compared to 30 years ago, resource use is still outpacing the benefits achieved by resource efficiency.

As developing nations emerge onto the global scene thanks to increased use of technology, greater and less expensive manufacturing capability and an increasing reliance on imports - and resources - the challenge will only intensify, and so an innovative approach is required that addresses the issue of consumption in developed nations while ensuring that advances in developing countries are informed by sustainable practices.

FOE has identified short-term measures that can help to provide a means of reducing reliance on natural resources, including the implementation of policy measures to enhance the monetary value of natural resources, as well as rewarding resource-efficient behavior. These measures also extend to encouraging organizations to better employ resource efficiency with the use of technology, and to significantly increase recycling rates where opportunities exist.

In the mid to long-term, informing consumers about opportunities to reduce their use of natural resources and boosting awareness of the potential positive impact of using and reusing materials can help to ingratiate this thinking among the public and businesses alike.

How TOMRA is helping

At TOMRA, we recognize the need for a resource revolution, which is why our sorting and collections divisions are constantly exploring new means of optimizing resource productivity.

The organization’s foundations date back to the creation of a machine to automate the return of empty beverage containers. This innovation formed the development of TOMRA’s Reverse Vending business, which incentivizes consumers and businesses to reuse containers and packaging.

Our Materials Recovery division complements reverse vending machinery to automate and optimize the recovery of valuable materials while ensuring material quality; PET plastics alone are worth 10 cents more in value when collected and processed through TOMRA's system, and we apply this thinking to all materials. We recognize that even small improvements can result in large-scale benefits.

Collective approach

TOMRA Sorting Food, Recycling and Mining have vastly different operations that seek to improve the entire collection, sorting and distribution process of valuable materials, but share the common goal of doing so while reducing both the time taken and the energy consumed while doing so.

This ethos is ingrained into every part of the organization and echoes the challenges facing the planet as a whole; we need to find ways to produce and use more while placing less pressure on natural resources.

To achieve this, we need to rethink how we obtain, use, reuse and optimize the planet’s finite reserves. At the same time, we must educate current and future generations about the need to continue innovating and finding new ways to do more with less. Only then can we achieve the goal of optimum resource productivity.

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TOMRA’s vision is to be a leader in the resource revolution. Through constant research and innovation, we are creating the technology to bring about optimal resource productivity and ensure a more sustainable planet. To find out more, visit www.tomra.com/our-mission.