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Whilst passing the 7th amendment to the German Packaging Ordinance at the beginning of July 2014, the country’s upper house, the Bundesrat, also instructed the German government to submit a draft bill for the long overdue recyclables law within the next six months. If the relevant players from the worlds of politics and business use this opportunity to set the right course for the future, then Germany can take a huge step forwards – towards greater sustainability, towards becoming less dependent on raw material exports and towards making massive inroads into preventing climate change. The potential is there. REMONDIS is calling on all those involved in the decision-making process to find the necessary courage to take the plunge and catapult Germany towards a more environmentally and resource friendly future.
There is one thing that everyone agrees on: it is essential that the very most is made of the recyclable materials and energy found in municipal waste, as Germany and the EU have so few natural raw materials of their own. However, Germany – which likes to call itself the ‘world champions in recycling’ and acts as a role model for so many other countries – is still a long way from doing this. Just how far can be seen in a recent study carried out by INFA GmbH on behalf of GEMINI (a joint initiative). This study had two main aims: to draw up ambitious collection targets for the different types of segregated recyclable waste and to find out what the maximum – and realistic – materials recycling rates actually are.
The INFA study looked at all standard recyclables: old paper, glass, organic and garden waste, metals, plastics, drinks cartons and old wood. In order to be able to get a realistic picture of the current situation in the German cities and districts and of their future collection and recycling potential, their settlement patterns were examined and divided up into five clusters according to population density. As the goal of a new recyclables law should be to grow materials recycling in Germany, the figures – giving the minimum volumes of recyclables (in kg) which could be collected per person per year – refer solely to recyclables which are segregated and collected separately. Moreover, it also took recyclable materials into account which are currently collected as part of the bulky waste collection service – both those picked up individually and those removed from the bulky waste for recycling.
“If Germany is serious when it says it wants to grow sustainability and prevent climate change, then we need a recyclables law with ambitious collection and recycling rates.”
Ludger Rethmann, Vorstandsvorsitzender REMONDIS
This here is not waste science fiction. What makes this study so good is the fact that it bases its calculations on the volumes of segregated recyclables currently already being collected as well as on the potential volumes of recyclables which could be collected (also based on hard facts). Its data is based on the nationwide figures provided by public sector waste management businesses for 2011 and on the data gathered from analyses of different types of sorted waste. The results are as impressive as they are encouraging. The study presents two alternatives which could also be introduced gradually in a series of steps should they be included in a new recyclables law.
The best possible scenario is already reality at 25% of the public sector waste management businesses.
Option 1 is based on the average amount of recyclables actually being collected at the moment in each cluster and on the potential volume of recyclables still found in residual waste bins. An additional volume of recyclables – which could potentially be collected – was defined for each cluster and added to the current mean value. This figure was not simply the product of someone’s imagination. It was based on the maximum amount of recyclables known to be in residual waste as well as on that from bulky waste collections.
Option 2 effectively reflects the “Champions League of recycling”. It shows the true potential i.e. the maximum amounts that could be collected and recycled. These exemplary collection rates could be used as future benchmarks – and they are volumes which are already being achieved today by 25 percent of the public sector waste management businesses with, and indeed thanks to, the support given by their private sector partners.
A figure defining the maximum volumes of recyclables found in residual waste was given in addition to the volumes actually being collected. This could be used by waste collection and recycling businesses as a guide should they not reach their intended collection targets. This figure is also oriented towards the amount of recyclables found in the residual waste collected by the public sector waste management businesses that are in the top 25 percent of each cluster. If, therefore, one quarter of all cities and districts already collect these ambitious volumes, then no-one can seriously try and claim that such targets are not possible. Ideally, the new recyclables law could set the standards and be an incentive for the remaining 75 percent, for them to catch up in their attempts to become more sustainable. This would then pave the way towards creating a genuine recycling society. The potential volumes listed in the INFA study for each individual fraction are staggering:
Nothing will change unless politicians increase recycling rates.
Even if other influences such as demographic and consumer changes were not taken into account, the amount of recyclables collected could be increased by 5.6 million tonnes or 70kg per capita (option 1) or even by 7.8 million tonnes or 95kg per capita (option 2) if all the cities and districts were to reach these targets.
Being Germany’s largest recycling, services and water company, REMONDIS has already shown that it is technically possible to collect and recycle segregated waste efficiently. This family run company, based in Lünen, collects, sorts and processes up to 30 million tonnes of materials every year. Indeed, the private sector plays a decisive role here helping local authorities to reach their ambitious recycling goals. The majority of waste in Germany – around 95 percent – is collected by private sector businesses. Moreover, they process and sort approx. 98 percent of all waste and around 85 percent of all materials recycling activities are carried out by private companies.
Unfortunately, practically all the discussions currently being held ahead of the legislative process regarding the new recyclables law are focusing on the question of who is responsible for what. And what’s worse: the signals coming from Berlin indicate that the new recyclables law might focus solely on waste made of similar materials to packaging waste i.e. on just 1.5 percent of all household waste. If all this extra waste were to be collected, then this would increase the volume of recyclables collected by a mere 5kg per person per year. Nowhere near the volume that could potentially be collected, namely 95kg. Furthermore, it is questionable whether the collection of waste made of similar materials to waste packaging would actually increase volumes by 5kg per person. Companies currently commissioned to process waste packaging have noticed that local inhabitants are already throwing away products made of similar materials into the recycling bin – an intelligent move even though they are not supposed to do this. Instead of having ambitious recycling goals at the core of this new law, all signs are pointing towards the political decision-makers using it to simply clarify the different collection systems. This is not “taking the plunge”.
It is essential that the future of the dual system becomes a part of the whole “collection of recyclables in Germany” package. In light of the crisis facing the dual system (see also Latest News 1), REMONDIS has joined “GemIni” (a joint initiative to abolish the dual system) which is financed by various public and private waste management and recycling businesses. REMONDIS believes that priority should be put on looking at how to make the most of the potential hidden in household waste and not on focusing on the old and boring question: who should do the work – the public or the private sector.
Sustainable success is only possible if there is fair competition between the public and private sectors.
For a private sector firm such as REMONDIS, it would be a huge step forward if politicians were to change their position and concentrate instead on increasing the volumes of materials collected. It is possible to live with the current public procurement system as long as there is fair competition and local authorities are obliged to put the services, which local inhabitants are to receive, out to tender and not to squeeze the private sector out of the market via in-house arrangements.
Click here to watch an interview with Herwart Wilms on the new recyclables law
The current recycling law does not really contain any notable incentives to encourage local authorities to have all their municipal waste recycled using high quality and environmentally friendly processes. To ensure this error is not repeated, the new recyclables law must make it clear in which direction the waste management sector must move and create the necessary legal framework so that raw material efficiency is increased, the recyclable materials found in municipal waste undergo high quality recycling processes and further opportunities are opened up. REMONDIS will continue to do everything in its power to ensure that the very most is made of the raw materials found in waste.