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It is a commonly accepted fact that Germany has very few raw material reserves of its own and must import the majority of its raw materials from other countries around the world. At the same time, around 20 million tonnes of waste are thermally treated year for year. In the best case scenario, these materials are used to generate electricity and heat. The raw materials, however, are lost to us forever. More can be done here. We must make more of the materials available to us.
A good 40% of all municipal waste is still being incinerated. And this despite the fact that the German parliament, the Bundestag, passed a recycling law in 2012 which clearly places materials recycling ahead of incineration in its 5-stage waste hierarchy. This practice has been possible because of the overcapacity in the waste incineration sector which has led to a huge fall in incineration prices and, in turn, effectively killed off efforts to promote the far more sensible materials recycling.
It is, however, vitally important for our country that these valuable raw materials are recovered, processed and returned to commercial cycles. They ensure that there is a guaranteed, stable and low-cost supply of raw materials for our manufacturing industry. The principle that applies to energy – namely transforming a business from being ”resource-greedy” to ”resource-friendly” – is, at the very least, just as important for the supply of raw materials for our industrial country.
”Increasing materials recycling is most definitely in the interests of Germany. Growing the recycling sector would create more jobs”
Rainer Deppe Member of the State Parliament of North Rhine-Westphalia, CDU Spokesperson for Climate Change, The Environment and Nature Conservation
The new recycling law has stipulated that organic, paper, metal, plastic and glass wastes must be segregated and collected separately across the whole of Germany. According to the law, such systems must be up and running by 01 January 2015 at the latest. Collecting waste – or perhaps it would be better if I called it raw materials – is, however, just one side of the coin. This system only becomes truly effective if the raw materials are genuinely recycled. What is decisive here, therefore, is what actually happens to the sorted raw materials.
All too often this is not clear. Whilst the input of materials recycling facilities is recorded in a fairly accurate way, the story of their output is rarely told. Records are not kept on whether the raw materials recovered from the materials recycling processes are really reused in production cycles or whether they are used once and only as a substitute fuel to generate energy. A future-oriented recycling sector should not be satisfied with simply having the collected volumes of recyclable waste documented. The success of such a system must be judged on what volumes of raw materials are genuinely recovered and reused.
The recycling law does make it obligatory for local authorities to draw up records about the volume of waste in their region and to calculate their recycling rates. The recycling methods are, however, more often than not too vague. What is lacking is a uniform system that enables recycling rates to be calculated and which would also allow comparisons to be made.
”Collecting waste is just one side of the coin. This system only becomes truly effective if the raw materials are genuinely recycled”
North Rhine-Westphalia, the largest state in Germany, should show courage here and develop a uniform and obligatory system that introduces benchmarks across the whole of its state. A transparent system that enables recycling rates to be calculated would immediately make it clear where the successes are – and, of course, the weaknesses – but at the same time it would reveal the dynamics of materials recycling. We truly believe that such a system of benchmarks would very quickly help to promote high quality recycling. 65% of all municipal waste should be recycled by 2020. Considering the fact that when the law came into force in 2012, the recycling rate for municipal waste already lay at around 64%, I personally would wish for more ambitious targets for such a highly developed industrial country.
Increasing materials recycling is most definitely in the interests of Germany. Not only because we would then need fewer raw material imports and so would be less dependent on others; growing the recycling sector would create more jobs. In light of the fact that raw materials are becoming scarcer and scarcer and, above all, more and more expensive, McKinsey has even identified the recycling sector as one of the industries of the future. Researchers believe that an additional 35,000 jobs could be created in North Rhine- Westphalia alone.
Let us find the courage to develop a high quality recycling sector that processes high volumes of materials for reuse. If we set up the whole of the supply chain so that it focuses on materials recycling – from collecting the materials, to selecting the recycling methods, to sending them to recycling plants – then we will not only be helping to conserve natural resources and prevent climate change, we will also be acting in the interests of our own country.