Environment

Jobs for a green future

23/05/2017

This year, the European Commission’s Green Week, the biggest annual event on Europe's environmental calendar, is dedicated to green jobs. From 29 May to 2 June, events in Brussels and across Europe focus on the new and innovative green skills and training required to build a circular economy. Find out more and be part of #EUGreenWeek 2017.

It is easy to consider green jobs as the preserve of eco-industries. After all, employment in this sector has grown by 20 % since 2000 and now provides 4.2 million jobs. But the growing importance of sustainability has reached all sectors. Many industries have realised that investing in resource efficiency, energy efficiency, renewable energy, waste and water management, actually saves them money by being less reliant on primary materials and imports.

Below, we profile the Global Sales Manager for Recyclables at the Belgian company Umicore, which started life as a mining company over 200 years ago. It took a big step up the value chain and began recycling metal waste rather than digging up raw materials. From circuit boards, Umicore can now retrieve over 95 % of the gold content and transform it into 99.99 % pure solid gold bars. The company has made a spectacular move from literally a coal mine to figuratively a gold mine by recycling metal waste. 

Nothing goes to waste in this firm where specialist skills are needed to recycle precious metals from old smart phones, broken laptops and dead batteries collected worldwide.

Thierry Van Kerckhoven specialises in refining precious metals at Umicore’s recycling facility at Hoboken, and also helps the company to find new recycling opportunities.

“We receive scrap materials from Chile to South Korea and from Canada to New Zealand, as well as practically all the countries located between.”

Thierry leads his team in identifying and buying different sources of waste copper, aluminium and zinc – as well as electronic waste. He also helps establish partnerships with businesses to ensure continuous sources of reusable waste.

“We process by-products from the non-ferrous industries and are a service provider for companies in the copper, zinc and lead industries,” he adds.

His employer’s expansion plans envisage more people joining the 10 000-strong workforce of technicians, operators, chemists, administrative staff and scientists. In future, Umicore also expects its employees to handle the increasingly complex global waste streams.

Umicore: facts and figures

  • It is the world’s largest plant for recycling metal waste
  • It processes 350 000 tonnes of precious metals material each year and aims to increase this to 500 000
  • It recovers 17 precious and speciality metals from over 200 complex input streams worldwide

However, we are far from fully exploiting the potential in the waste and recycling sector. Today, less than 25 % of the plastic waste collected is recycled, and about 50 % still goes to landfill. Fully applying the waste laws we currently have would not only increase recycling, but would also create up to 400 000 additional jobs by 2020.

This clearly shows that going green makes business sense, it is good for the environment, and it is good for people. Policy-makers, social partners, companies, and education and training institutions all have to do their bit to ensure that Europe is ready for the employment realities of tomorrow and that Europeans have the right skills for a green career.

 

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