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2017 is super election year in Germany. Several Länder will be holding elections to their state legislatures. Then comes national general elections for the Bundestag in September, which will lay down the contours for German policy for the next four years at least. This election in Europe’s most populous and economically strongest country will have an impact on the entire EU and beyond. One important topic: recycling and its importance to climate and environmental protection. We wanted to size up the situation and asked the major party groups how they wanted to shape environmental policy in the upcoming legislative term.
The setting of the agenda in this election year is of tremendous importance to companies operating in the recycling and water-management sectors in general and to the REMONDIS Group in particular. The next legislative term offers Germany the opportunity to further expand its pioneering role in the area of resource and climate protection and as a result create a lot of new jobs in a sector that already offers more than 250,000 people jobs at present. Even though some path-breaking legislative bills like the Commercial Waste Regulation (Gewerbeabfallverordnung) and the new Packaging Law (Verpackungsgesetz) were initiated towards the end of the ongoing legislative term, the major opportunity to encourage significantly more recycling and resource protection with the discontinuation of the Recyclable Materials Act (Wertstoffgesetz) has unfortunately gone largely unused. Around 7.8 million tonnes of recyclable material still continue to be irrevocably destroyed each year. Against this background, REMONDIS sent 10 questions on the future of the recycling economy to all major democratic parliamentary party groups so that the sector and interested voters could gain an impression of where things will be going in the political arena following the election when it comes to recycling, climate and environmental protection.
The responses by the CDU, SPD, Bündnis90/DIE GRÜNEN, DIE LINKE and FDP were all clearly positive in their affirmation of environmental protection and recycling as such, but they varied greatly in terms of their opinions of how these objectives can best be achieved.
In the following we cite the statements made by the CDU to our Federal Association, the BDE, as REMONDIS has not received any more up-to-date responses to date. Saving valuable raw materials and fostering recycling are key topics for the CDU in the next legislative term. The idea of a voluntary recycling label that provides consumers simple information on the recyclability of a product is definitely viewed by the Christian Democrats to offer a possibility to save resources, but they emphasise that product responsibility on the part of manufacturers needs be expanded, e.g. by assuming the costs for collecting and recycling their products. This principle is tried and proven, for example, in the case of packaging waste. The CDU has a clear opinion regarding efforts by municipalities to reassert control over services in this area: competitive solutions offer the best guarantee of high-quality, inexpensive waste-disposal solutions for citizens and the economy. The CDU categorically rejects restoration of public control over this sector, as only competition and strict waste requirements make Germany a leading actor in the international recycling economy. In the opinion of the CDU, the task is to expand and strengthen this successful system. The party also wants to work to ensure that the waste hierarchy is devoted more attention throughout Europe. A prohibition against waste landfills like those applying in Germany is held to be unrealistic in some countries. Nevertheless, placement of waste in landfills is the “worst of all solutions”. The objective of the CDU is to apply Germany’s recycling know-how internationally while eliminating differences between countries in the use of landfills.
In the view of the SPD, the recycling economy is of tremendous importance with regard to saving resources, securing the supply of raw materials, climate and environmental protection. The Social Democrats want to have statutory framework conditions for higher collection and recycling rates, requirements regarding the manufacturing of resource-saving products, material recycling and avoidance of waste. Investment and innovation should also be encouraged by means of greater recycling rates. The Party sees a need for greater research efforts at present, among other things with regard to the unsolved problem of recycling rotary blades from wind-energy systems. At the legislative level, the SPD will be basing its platform on the EU Circular Economy Package as well as waste avoidance and assigning priority to materials recycling above thermal treatment and will continue to pursue the idea of a law on reusable materials. With regard to an eco-design directive, the Party will work for recycling-friendly product design and subject manufacturers to obligations. In order to leverage additional potential for reusable materials, the SPD is arguing for uniform collection of reusable materials, an information campaign for consumers and investment in sorting and recycling technology. The Social Democrats do not see any trend towards the public sector taking control over the sector, but expressly advocate equal opportunity for municipal and private enterprises with transparent competition. Public services, according to the SPD, should not be subject to value-added tax so that these remain affordable for citizens. It is unclear, however, how it intends to deal with privileges for municipal enterprises with regard to value-added tax. As for international growth, the SPD points to the existing export initiative for environmental technology by the Federal Ministry for the Environment.
As expected, the circular economy is viewed by the Greens to be a key element in environmental policy. The party also emphasises the link between recycling and climate protection, calling for additional investment in the expansion of recycling infrastructure and more ambitious recycling targets by law, and explicitly recognises the importance of the industry as a job engine. With regard to the legislative arena, the Greens attach importance to the Packaging Law and the Circular Economy Package of the European Union. The party is sticking to its declared aim and objective of instituting a law on reusable materials, a quota for reusability and an expansion of legislation to cover all beverage cans and plastic disposable bottles. The Greens are also open to ecodesign requirements for producers and entities introducing products in the market. As far as the question of competencies is concerned, municipalities should in the view of the Greens have the right to decide whether to take over services of general interest or to assign these to private entities based on the municipalities’ right to self-administration. The Party is in favour of leaving value-added tax exemptions largely untouched, while public tender law is to be made stricter with regard to environmental protection, social and human rights obligations. As regards execution and enforcement, the Greens would like to set up a new central office at the Environmental Protection Agency. At EU level, the Greens are calling for an EU-wide ban on landfills.
For die Linke as well, a good recycling economy serves as the basis for raw material cycles which reduce consumption of primary raw materials, thereby also reducing environmental pollution through the production of raw materials. The party believes that municipalities should have control over execution and enforcement in the local economy, however, and categorically rejects a trend towards privatisation of waste management which it sees. In the area of legislation, die Linke would like to see an improved waste hierarchy with long usage times, product upgradeability and a positive list of packaging materials. In the case of ecodesign, the party advocates a disposal levy on all products the amount for which is to be linked to a product design suitable for recycling and it calls for a levy on consumption of primary resources in order to promote use of recycled raw materials. To exploit additional potential and improve the collection of materials, die Linke want to set up containers for small-scale electrical appliances and small metal objects under the supervision and control of municipal authorities. The party wants to avoid the VAT exemption by placing the provision of services under complete municipal responsibility and control. Social and ecological parameters are to be given more weight in public tenders. Similar to the Greens, die Linke would also like to establish a central state office to improve execution and enforcement. In the international area, recycling processes are to be made an integral part of development aid.
The recycling industry also plays a major role with the FDP, as in the view of the Liberals recycling will continue to gain importance both in Germany and worldwide in view of ever scarcer resources. At the same time, in view of the positive growth in jobs in the industry, the FDP would like to ensure fair framework conditions at all levels. In contrast to Die Linke and the Greens, the FDP assumes that recycling in Germany would grow even more strongly without the reassertion of municipal control and with fair competition between state and private market actors. The Free Democrats thus view strengthening of the private economy to be of particular importance and are opposed to laws putting private enterprises at a disadvantage compared to state-owned companies. The party rejects an “ecodesign directive”, however, because in the view of the FDP this would be tantamount to government interference in entrepreneurial decision-making. The Liberals would like to revise regulations governing individual waste streams such as municipal, commercial and construction waste with the aim of instituting more ambitious recycling rates. The party opposes different taxation for private and municipal actors and calls for a fair market. Public tenders should be non-discriminatory, transparent, based on due course of law and business-friendly. In the execution and enforcement of laws, the FDP would like to see an improved set of instruments for agencies in charge of supervision and controls as well as government requirements. Internationally, the Liberals want to work to strengthen awareness of the opportunities offered by recycling.