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  • Dear Readers!

    Many people in Europe could hardly believe the news when they woke up on 24 June to discover a slim majority of Britons had voted in favour of Brexit. Leading economists, politicians, business people, artists and scientists had repeatedly called for the UK to remain in the EU so that the problems of globalisation could be tackled together as one strong community. Their words were in vain; the majority of Britons decided that the best way forward was to take a step back towards the sup­posedly good old days of 'splendid isolation'. No-one at that time, however, could have anticipated that this was just a precursor of an even bigger political earthquake. On 08.11. American voters elected Donald Trump to be their next president. Never before had the country experienced such a populist movement and his comments do not bode well either for the global economy or for a peaceful co-existence between nations. Only time will tell whether or to what extent President Trump will try and change global economic and political structures. Only then will we be able to see what impact this will all have on Europe. However, no matter how much the new President tries to deny the very existence of climate change, there is one thing that is clear right now: the world’s population will continue to grow and the challenges of meeting people’s needs and tackling the planet’s environmental problems will not become easier in the future. Our recommendation to Donald Trump, therefore, would be to take a look at the country of his ancestors – at Germany, where solutions are already being developed to create a sustainable supply of raw materials for the future.  

    Over 40 years ago, when the recycling sector was just beginning to find its feet in Germany (thanks also to the many contributions made by REMONDIS), there were approx. 3.5 billion people living on our planet. At that time, recycling was considered by many to be nothing more than a bit of a gimmick. The world had enough raw materials and plenty of space for storing waste – so why do more than we have to? The human race needed just under 100,000 years to reach 3.5 billion people. This figure has doubled within just 40 years! By 2050, it is expected to rise to 10 billion. The so-called Earth Overshoot Day, the date when humanity has exhausted nature’s budget for the year, was even earlier this year: on 08 August. Since then, we have effectively been living as if we have a second planet to fall back on.

    The recycling sector already offers solutions to these problems at a number of different levels: supplying raw materials, generating energy, protecting water supplies and the environment, curbing global warming and even taking on social responsibilities. 14% of the raw materials used in Germany are supplied by the recycling industry, an important step to separating economic growth and the consumption of natural resources from one another. If our production processes are to be sustainable and affordable in the future, then all products and raw materials must be recovered and reused. For this to be possible, however, politicians around the world must drive this development and introduce ambitious laws to ensure it happens. We need higher recycling targets and mandatory ecodesign guidelines that force manufacturers to design their products so that they can be fully recycled once they reach the end of their useful life.

    Recycling would be become mandatory in a future where all raw materials and products – no matter whether it be a smartphone, car or plane – must be designed in line with ecological criteria. Children working in mines in third world countries would be a thing of the past. Wars would no longer be fought to gain access to natural resources. Innovative processes would mean that our wastewater could be used to produce clean drinking water and as a source of phosphorus for fertilisers, building supplies and energy. Collecting and recycling organic waste around the globe and turning it into high quality compost or using it to generate renewable energy would, for the most part, solve the problem of climate change – and also provide great prospects for growth.

    With this optimistic look into the future, may I wish you and your families a very happy, healthy and prosperous New Year.

    Ludger Rethmann

An unexpected decision from the German government

  • The BDE (Federal Association of the German Waste Management Industry) has made it very clear that it disagrees with the German government’s decision – made public in September – to try and prevent recycling targets being increased.

2030 targets likely to be set later than expected

  • An internal paper released on 12 September has revealed that the German government would like European recycling rates to be calculated using a completely new methodology. Moreover, the German government has suggested in its letter that the EU should not set the recycling targets for 2030 until initial data has been gathered using this new method of calculation. Such results would not be available until three years after the introduction of the new method.

    The BDE believes the whole idea of a European recycling sector may be put at risk if recycling targets are not raised very soon.

    With the negotiations on the Commission’s original suggestion drawing to an end, this rejection came as a great surprise for the whole of the recycling sector. The Commission’s proposal to standardise the way recycling rates are calculated in the different member states has been on the table for two years now. And things had been looking good up until then. Indeed, it was the Federal minister of the environment who called on the Commission not to lower recycling targets after the first Circular Economy Package was withdrawn. According to the BDE, the German government’s new suggestion is putting the whole idea of a future-oriented European recycling sector at risk. “It gives the impression that the German government does not want an agreement to be reached quickly or the targets to be increased,” commented BDE President, Peter Kurth.

  • “The faster a political decision is reached, the faster decisions can be made about new investment projects.”

    Peter Kurth, BDE President

An appeal from BDE President Peter Kurth

In his own letter, BDE President Peter Kurth has asked the Federal Minister for the Environment Barbara Hendricks to withdraw the German government’s proposal. At the same time, he has called on all the state ministers for the environment to support him in his endeavour, especially as the German Advisory Council on the Environment had said it was in favour of the suggested targets back in February. Peter Kurth suspects that the reason behind the German government’s surprise move is that the Ministry of the Environment is worried the country will be unable to meet the proposed targets. The BDE believes, however, that such worries are unfounded. “Even if German recycling rates did fall to begin with, this would provide an incentive to step up the efforts to improve recycling processes across the country. It won’t be difficult to reach the 2030 target of 65%.” This would also send out a clear signal to the new member states that separate collection schemes must be set up in their countries and that more money must be invested in recycling and incineration plants over the medium to long term.

People in Brussels are not happy either

Most of those in Brussels have responded to the German government’s suggestion with incomprehension and criticism. In fact, the Environment Committee is even considering voting for the recycling target to be increased when it is put to the vote in January. One thing is certain: agreement about this must be reached soon as this will lead to more money being invested in recycling processes in Germany and across Europe. “The faster a political decision is reached, the faster decisions can be made about new investment projects,” explained Peter Kurth.

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