Since the early 1980s, OECD has been developing and promulgating international policies aimed at preventing and reducing waste generation and managing the residues in an environmentally sound manner. It has, however, become evident that waste minimisation policies which address only end-of-life products and materials are not effective in reducing increasing amounts of waste associated with economic activity and material consumption. This accentuates the need for creative and far-sighted and integrated solutions, using life-cycle thinking to reduce the negative environmental impacts of materials in a cost-effective manner.
The OECD Environmental Strategy, adopted by Environment Ministers in May 2001, clearly outlines the need for governments to look for integrated solutions such as SMM, to address current environmental concerns.
Against this background OECD initiated work on Sustainable Materials Management (SMM). OECD countries are demonstrating a growing interest in considering wastes as potential resources that can be used as input for new products. Such use of wastes can result in less virgin material extraction with related reduction of negative environmental impacts, less disposal and often less processing of waste. In this context, a number of OECD countries are trying to move away from a heavily waste-oriented view and develop materials-based approaches and shift the “cradle-to-grave” thinking towards “cradle-to-cradle” thinking.
The work on SMM is carried out in close collaboration with the OECD programme on material flows and resource productivity that includes the establishment of a common knowledge base to enable sound fact-based Material Flow Analysis (MFA) and to inform related policy discussions, such as SMM.
The work on SMM is also closely linked to an OECD project on Eco-innovation and Sustainable Manufacturing. Innovation in technologies and how it is applied are key to enabling industry to create new business values while also benefiting people and the planet. In recent years, manufacturing companies have been re-directing their efforts towards sustainable manufacturing to integrate approaches that take into account the product’s life-cycle impacts (www.oecd.org/innovation/green).