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  • Dear Readers!

    This editorial was written and ready for print and focused primarily on the EU’s Green Deal. And then coronavirus spread around the world and the text had to be revised. Despite the current situation, though, the Green Deal remains one of the most important projects for the European circular economy. And many other things have happened as well – the question surrounding DSD, for example.

    It is now official. On 22 April 2020, the first Cartel Panel of the Higher Regional Court [Oberlandesgericht] of Düsseldorf dismissed our appeal against the Cartel Office’s decision. Their ruling surprised us as we were sure that we had the better arguments in favour of us acquiring Duales System Deutschland GmbH. But we live under the rule of law and we will, of course, accept their decision. What we need to do now is to take the time required to take a detailed look at the Panel’s reasons for dismissing our appeal and then carefully decide what our next steps should be. In light of the fact that all other major competitors operate in this market, it will be interesting to see to what extent REMONDIS will get involved in the Dual System in the future.

    It is not so easy to look ahead at the moment, though, faced with the current coronavirus emergency. When the first media reports came through on 29 December last year that China had informed the WHO that it had an unexplained cluster of people suffering from an unidentified lung disease, no one realised just how hard or how fast this virus would affect the globalised economy. It is practically impossible to estimate the costs incurred by the economy grounding to a halt as a result of the virus. And it is not just the private sector that has felt the impact. Many city and district authorities were already in financial difficulties before the crisis began. Their situation can only get worse, now that their revenue from local business tax and their takings from their local amenities have plummeted. Maybe it is time to set aside old arguments and enter into long-term partnerships with the private sector that will benefit both parties – especially when it comes to delivering essential public services. Setting up public private joint ventures dedicated to providing essential services could help mitigate the consequences of the crisis. At the end of the day, ‘a load shared is a load halved’. One positive coming from these unprecedented times is the increased sense of solidarity among the population and towards many sections of the economy. REMONDIS, too, is there to help and support its municipal partners – during this crisis more than ever.

    Past pandemics have rarely lasted longer than two years. At some stage – whether with or without a vaccine – public life and business will return to normal. This will be the moment when it will become clear to all that our planet’s biggest problem – climate change – has not solved itself. Once again, the spotlight will be turned on the European Union’s Green Deal. Looking at a list published from within the EU, there is a danger of important regulations being watered down, especially in the area of the circular economy. In contrast, the German National Academy of Sciences, Leopoldina, expressly advises against neglecting climate action and environmental protection following the Covid-19 crisis in its ad-hoc statement published on 14 April 2020. In fact, it recommends the exact opposite. The economy must be kick-started so that it can grow again and should, it says, be “guided more firmly than before by considerations of sustainability, not least because this offers vast potential for economic growth.” Climate change is and will continue to be the biggest challenge for the future and REMONDIS, being one of the leading water and recycling businesses, will continue to put forward its solutions and play an important role.

    With this in mind: stay safe and stay positive.

    Thomas Conzendorf

Lithium batteries are posing a risk

While the EU Commission continues to discuss minimum collection rates and the German Bundestag obligatory deposit return schemes, the recycling sector is finding itself facing an ever more dangerous situation as a result of the mass production and use of li-ion batteries. More often than not, consumers throw away their devices into their black bin without a second thought when they are no longer needed. The result: dozens of fires at recycling plants, machines standing still for months on end and a large number of employees and front-line workers put at risk.

A lack of awareness among consumers

  • Mobile phones, notebooks, electric tools and e-bike batteries that have been damaged or handled incorrectly are a major hazard as they can all potentially cause a fire. While consumers tend to be extremely careful about the way they treat their electronic devices the whole time they are using them, these products are very dangerous indeed once they have been discarded. If they are damaged during transport or from simply being dropped, this can cause a short circuit, set off a chemical reaction and lead to sudden fires breaking out at sorting plants or in the refuse collection trucks. Most consumers are unaware of this huge risk.

    How exactly do such fires start and how should e-bike batteries, for example, be stored properly? Find out more in this video

The danger of smoke poisoning

“The recycling sector can no longer keep the consequences and risks of these fires under control,” explained Gerhard Jokic, managing director of REMONDIS Electrorecycling. They are a serious health hazard. The substances contained in lithium-ion batteries and that are released during a fire can cause serious smoke poisoning. Besides the worry that employees and rescue services may be harmed, the sector also has to face the costs of repairing the damage to the buildings and machinery, which can reach an eight-figure sum. “Insurance companies have also been sounding the alarm for a long while now,” Jokic continued.

“It is essential that consumers realise that electronic devices should never been thrown away with household waste but must be collected separately and recycled.”

Gerhard Jokic, Managing Director of REMONDIS Electrorecycling

Orderly & structured collections

  • This problem is only going to get bigger. The recycling sector will find itself facing an ever growing volume of e-waste as millions more electronic devices containing lithium-ion batteries are produced and e-mobility continues to grow in popularity. The solution is to systematically implement information campaigns, orderly and structured collection schemes mandated by parliament and a clear labelling of products.

    It is essential that consumers realise that electronic devices should never been thrown away with household waste but must be collected separately and recycled. For this to happen, they must be handed in to household recycling centres or specialist retailers. The situation is a far cry from this at the moment. Just 45% of old electronic devices are actually handed in as they should be. The mandatory collection rate for this waste stream has been 65% since 2019. Which is why, for example, both REMONDIS and the BDE [Federal Association of the German Waste Management Industry] are calling for a deposit return scheme to be introduced for devices containing lithium-ion batteries. This will create an incentive for consumers to return their old products, reduce the risks of fire over the long term and, above all, ensure important raw materials can be recovered and reused.

Safe bins protect human health, the environment & machinery

This alone, however, will not minimise the risk of self-combustion as fires can still break out at the retailers and household recycling centres. Which is why discarded devices containing lithium-ion batteries should only be collected and stored in special containers. The recycling sector is, therefore, calling for this to be added to the Battery Law to make this mandatory.

RETRON’s specialty containers offer the highest levels of protection and safety for storing and transporting li-ion batteries. Further information at retron.world.

If devices should self-combust, then special containers can reduce heat generation and ensure the gases are released in a controlled manner. Not until such containers are used can the risk of large fires be prevented and employees protected. Moreover, the recycling industry wishes to see the manufacturers of products with li-ion batteries be obliged to implement the highest possible safety levels. This primarily includes clearly labelling their products and making sure they are handled correctly at the end of their useful life.

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