Professor Walter Stahel, co-founder of the Swiss-based Product Life Institute, said recycling was of limited benefit because it was unprofitable for all but a handful of materials, such as aluminium and copper, meaning it needs large public subsidies.
Even then, he said, recycling such materials in fast-moving consumer goods such as drinks cans meant that you still lost all of the metal within only a few months because it was virtually impossible to achieve 100% recycling, so more and more was lost each time it went through consumers' hands. Switching to reusable alternatives does not work in a global supply chain because transport costs are too high, Stahel added.
Stahel said products should be reused, repaired and modified as much as possible so that a minimum of waste required to be recycled. Part of this is about governments encouraging companies to lease goods rather than sell them, which also means that the firms retain responsibility for the waste.
Environment Secretary Richard Lochhead last week met with Stahel and announced the Scottish Government's early steps in this direction at the Scottish Resources Conference in Glasgow.