Research Unit

MaterialLoops

The Research Unit Material Loops focuses on the closing of material cycles as a central prerequisite for a globally sustainable level of resource consumption.

Germany and the European Union are striving for a comprehensive transition to a circular economy. The approach aims to avoid waste, use and reuse products and their components for as long as possible and exploit wastes as potential resources. The associated challenges and questions regarding the design of infrastructures, policy mixes, governance structures and innovation processes are the starting point for research in the field of material cycles.

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Objectives

The vision of the circular economy is closed material cycles. The avoidance, reuse and recycling of waste are not, however, the exclusive goals, but shall contribute to a long-term sustainable and, overall, significantly more resource-efficient economic system. It has to be considered that only limited shares of natural resources can fully circulate in loops. What is more, resources are also needed for the technical recovery of raw materials from waste and the replacement by bio-based raw materials is also limited due to the global availability of arable land.

The Research Unit Material Loops therefore aims at a interdisciplinary investigation of the following key research questions:

  • Which raw materials can be circulated and which interdependencies have to be considered?
  • How can changes in the material flows be quantified and evaluated?
  • Which materials, products or wastes should be prioritised for saving resources through avoidance, reuse and recycling?
  • Which policy approaches are required and appropriate for a comprehensive transformation from the local to the global level?
  • Which are the decisive obstacles and what measures can be taken to overcome them?
Thematic focus

The transformation to a circular economy is a comprehensive technical, political and cultural challenge. It needs completely new approaches combining the previously isolated topics such as product design, sustainable consumption or resource-efficient management with waste management issues. To this end, the Research Unit uses quantitative analyses of resource efficiency in the circular economy (MFA, LCA) as well as qualitative and empirical policy analyses of transformation paths and instruments.

The scientists of the Material Loops Research Unit identify and analyse innovative technical and policy approaches that cover the entire life cycle of the material flow – from raw material extraction to disposal. They examine and evaluate policy instruments in terms of their effects, their feasibility and the innovation processes and impacts they induce. The researchers also seek and generate new ideas as to how recyclable products should be designed and how waste management infrastructures can be planned that can be flexibly adapted to reduced waste volumes.

Projects

Here you can find projects of the Research Unit: