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The recycling bin, or the ‘yellow bin’ as it is known in Germany because of the colour of its lid, is an ailing patient. It is suffering from the ‘wasting disease’ and if extensive and effective action is not taken to cure this problem, this patient is at risk of dying. The volume of light sales packaging licensed for 2014 has fallen to 820,000 tonnes. Compared to last year, this is a drop of 200,000 tonnes or 25 percent. Yet another dramatic decrease, therefore, and one that is no longer acceptable. Indeed, it is calling the whole of the once so successful dual system into question. There is certainly not a lack of suggestions about how it might be saved but time is running out.
How efficient can a system be if – at the expense of honest system operators – an ever increasing number of system operators and companies placing sales packaging onto the market shirk their responsibility of having their products recycled correctly by pushing their waste volumes into dubious industry-specific collection systems or purporting to have their own take-back system?
Both the legal certainty and the economic viability of this system, which collects and recycles sales packaging in Germany and has been such a success in the past, are hanging in the balance. At the time of going to press, neither the registered dual system operators nor the legislator had been able to draw up a solution, which everyone could agree on, to take this system into the future. Whilst politicians in Berlin are still considering the suggested changes to the 6th amendment of the Sales Packaging Ordinance, the Federal Ministry for the Environment has already submitted its draft for a 7th amendment to stabilise the system. This aims to completely abolish the right of a company to set up its own individual collection system as well as to introduce far-reaching restrictions regarding industry-specific systems. We asked Herwart Wilms, managing director of REMONDIS’ own dual system, EKO-Punkt, how he sees the future of sales packaging recycling both from the point of view of a system operator and of a waste management business.
Herwart Wilms: If you mean the end of the yellow bin as the symbol for the kerbside collection of segregated waste packaging in Germany, then my answer is an emphatic 'no'. Recyclables will always be collected separately in Germany no matter whether the system operators succeed in reaching a sustainable, long-term agreement and indeed no matter what future amendments are made to the ordinances by the legislator.
Herwart Wilms: The need to make the most of the raw materials contained in the various types of waste. An export nation such as Germany – which has so few raw materials of its own and whose industry is still far too dependent on imports of primary raw materials – cannot afford to simply incinerate the valuable raw materials in its waste. Even if some of the operators of waste incineration plants may certainly prefer this option, the EU has decided differently and this is a good thing as we need every tonne of raw material we can get.
Herwart Wilms: There is a flaw in the system. When, at the insistence of the EU, the old monopolistic ”Green Point” system was abolished to encourage competition, noone could have foreseen that this competition would primarily consist of the black sheep among the system operators trying to calculate their share of the market so that it is as small as possible. Such a perverted form of competition can, in the end, only lead to the collapse of the whole system.
”The vicious circle of falling volumes of licensed materials and increasing costs per tonne must be broken.”
Herwart Wilms, Managing Director at REMONDIS
Herwart Wilms: For years now, the volume of sales packaging collected has remained at a stable level of around 2.2 million tonnes. This is actual physical waste that must be collected, sorted and processed by the waste management companies commissioned to do this work. This service is paid for indirectly by the consumers. Product manufacturers and companies placing packaging onto the market have to pay a licence fee which they effectively add on to the price of their products. The size of their licence fee depends on their share of the volume of material and this is settled with the dual system of their choice which had advertised their services. In order to keep costs as low as possible for their customers, some dual systems are now simply defining volumes out of existence via so-called industry-specific solutions or take-back systems run by individual companies. These, though, are just loopholes as consumers never take their sales packaging back to the shop they bought it from nor do these volumes actually disappear. The victims here are both the honest system operators and the waste management companies which have to continue to provide a service which the polluters are doing their very best not to pay for. If this is not stopped, the system will not survive.
Herwart Wilms: The kerbside collection of segregated recyclables has become part of everyday life for both local residents and politicians. Recyclables will, therefore, continue to be collected separately in the future. Every day, public and private sector waste management businesses prove that the collection, sorting and recycling of these materials work well. The only thing that needs to be changed here is the way the system is financed. Reserves have been created for the transitional period should there be a financial shortfall.
”We are still a long way from making the most of the recyclable materials in our waste in Germany.”
Herwart Wilms, Managing Director at REMONDIS
Herwart Wilms: The system needs to be completely overhauled. What is important is that all of the players, i.e. those placing the packaging on the market, the systems and the legislator, find a solution very quickly so as to come to grips with the current problems. No matter how sales packaging is to be collected in the future, the system should definitely be expanded to include all recyclables. For this to work, product responsibility must be extended to cover other products, i.e. not just packaging, and all market players, whether they are from the public or private sector, should set ambitious benchmarks regarding collection volumes and their recycling potential. The latest studies have made it very clear that we are still a long way from making the most of the recyclable materials in our waste in Germany. And this is where the true future of the yellow bin will be found.