In August 2017, humans had already used up more natural resources than the Earth could renew for the whole year. This means that last year, humanity lived on “credit” from the Earth from August to December. There are studies predicting a consumption of 2 whole planets every year by the year 2050. Our ecological footprint as a society is increasing and we are reaching Earth Overshoot day each year earlier. You can calculate your ecological footprint and surprise yourself with how many planets you would need to keep up with your lifestyle. Our planet is crying out for help and we need to understand the urge for a more sustainable style of living.
Sustainability in environmental science means “the quality of not being harmful to the environment or depleting natural resources, and thereby supporting long-term ecological balance”. In other words, it means using resources in a way they last indefinitely. Achieving sustainability will allow the Earth to continue supporting human life.
As per its importance, in September 2015 the United Nations agreed on the UN Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs). The SDGs are a 17 point plan to end poverty, halt climate change and fight injustice and inequality by 2030. These 17 goals represent different aspects of human life and together they reach 169 targets that all countries should achieve.SUSTAINABILITY IN THE CERAMICS WORLD
Although each country presents a different market structure, we can say that most ceramic manufacturers are innovative small and medium-sized enterprises. Each region has different regulations and manufacturing technologies, but there are several things that we can do together as a sector.
The key environmental aspects of ceramics production are (European Commission, 2007):
- Air emissions: particulate matter, soot and gaseous emissions (carbon oxides, nitrogen oxides, sulphur oxides, inorganic fluorine and chlorine compounds, organic compounds and heavy metals)
- Process waste water, which mainly contains mineral components and other inorganic materials, small quantities of numerous organic materials as well as heavy metals.
- Process losses/waste, mainly consisting of different kinds of sludge, broken ware, used plaster moulds, used sorption agents, dust, ashes and packaging waste.
- Energy consumption/CO2 emissions: all sectors of the ceramic industry are energy intensive, as a key part of the process involves drying followed by firing (800-2000ºC). Today natural gas and fuel oil are mainly used for firing, while heavy fuel oil, liquefied natural gas, biogas/biomass, electricity and solid fuels (e.g. coal, petroleum coke) can also play a role as energy sources for burners, though they are not so economically interesting.
WHAT CAN WE DO AS A SECTOR?
The ceramic industry has, for many years, performed important technological and managerial improvements to tackle environmental aspects of the manufacturing phase. The greatest environmental impacts usually occur during the withdrawal of the product after its useful life. This environmental impact is significant due to the large amount of solid waste accumulated in demolitions due to the large number of construction elements that are removed, with virtually no recycling or reuse because separation from other materials is very complicated. After the demolition and deconstruction stage, ceramic tiles can be crushed and then used in a range of different applications, like concrete aggregates or road construction, turning the waste become a resource.
- Energy efficiency of production cycle increased by 150% since 1980 in the Italian ceramics sector and it is a number that can be applied to other markets too. A reduction in the amounts of oil used to manufacture brick and tile pieces due to energy efficient machinery and ecofriendly additives can help reduce greenhouse emissions.
- The sector should apply systems to collect lead, fluorine and other emissions by purification systems. Try to reduce the emissions of harmful gases into the atmosphere by installing filtering systems.
- Reuse waste water. It is possible to recover and reuse all the water to recirculate it in the process. Another alternative is to map the water system: all pipes, valves, points of use, cross-connections and meters. Then identify the volume used at each major point and ensure that you properly understand where all the water is used. Fix any leaks or problems you might find and monitor what is being used in each part of the factory. Then there are also methods to recycle water, and you have to be careful to use the best treatment for this.
- EMAS (Eco-Management and Audit Scheme) is a voluntary management system created by European Commission to recognize and reward proactive organizations in the European Economic Area that go beyond the basic environmental laws and constantly improve their environmental performances.
- ISO 14000 (a family of standards related to environmental management) sets standards for good management practices. While ISO 9001:2000 gives requirements for quality management systems, the ISO 14000 standard defines the criteria for an Environmental Management Systems (EMS). The certification and registration are given by independent organizations.
- EU ECO-LABEL “Flower” is a tool aimed at promoting sustainable production and consumption through ecological criteria for product groups based on a life-cycle analysis.
IMPORTANCE OF HAVING SUSTAINABLE PRODUCTIOn
We are using up our resources at a rate that we can’t afford and studies show that, in about 50 years’ time, we will be running out of oil. Sustainable production is vital not only to help the environment, but also the society and the ceramics sector itself.
Sustainability can help us save large amounts of money in energy and power, water and even raw materials and it can be an incentive to get to the most competent staff, who will be more willing to work somewhere that has a higher aim than just profits.
That is why this matter is gaining more and more importance every day and the reason why Associations and Exhibitions are rewarding ecofriendly advances, as was seen at Cevisama last week.