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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

Full-scale response

It could have been a scene from a disaster movie. One of REMONDIS’ trucks suddenly veers out of control at REMONDIS Industrie Service’s branch in Lübeck and crashes into a stack of liquid containers. An employee standing close by is buried under the containers and hydrofluoric acid begins to escape. The driver of the truck is slumped over the wheel of his vehicle, unconscious after having suffered a heart attack. A third employee rushes to help his colleague trapped under the containers and breathes in the fumes. He, too, loses consciousness and collapses to the ground in an area that is difficult to spot – with his face dangerously close to the leaking chemical. The firefighters arrive within just a few minutes of the alarm going off and rush over to the scene of the accident to help all those injured. It soon becomes clear, however, that this is – thank goodness – just an exercise to hone the firefighters’ skills and that the casualties are actors simply playing their part.

  • What the fire brigade found when they arrived could have been a scene from a disaster movie – fortunately, though, it was just an exercise

The fire crew believed they were facing a genuine emergency

The emergency call was put through to the plant’s fire station in Lübeck on Thursday, 13 October 2016, at 3.03pm. The whole team of firefighters responded to the call immediately. According to the information given, there had been an accident at REMONDIS Industrie Service’s branch in Steinbrückerstraße 10 that involved a number of casualties and a dangerous chemical leak. At this point, the professional firefighters do not know how many people are involved nor that this is an exercise organised by their bosses.

  • “Thanks to such exercises, it’s good to know that the Lübeck fire brigade is able to deal with whatever disaster is thrown at them.”

    René Jurock, REMONDIS manager responsible for the north

A combination of different situations

Several fire engines and ambulances are sent straight to the site equipped with a wide range of safety gear including full body protection, breathing apparatus and decontamination equipment. The “scene of the accident” had in fact been carefully planned and set up by REMONDIS and the chief fire officer and combined a number of possible emergencies.

High expectations of the fire & rescue services

The scene that the firefighters were confronted with – i.e. the combination of a person contaminated with hydrofluoric acid (here an actor covered in water dyed with green food colouring), an accident with a high pressure vacuum truck with an unconscious driver and containers leaking a dangerous and toxic liquid – would in fact be highly unlikely. The exercise also involved them setting up a decontamination area for the fire and rescue workers after their work had been completed as well as to cordon off the scene of the accident. They needed just under an hour to rescue the people and make the area safe.

A positive conclusion

“All in all, everything went very well. There are a few places where we can still improve our performance. And we were able to test some new technology,” commented the firefighter instructor, Henning Witten, summarising the exercise whilst the fire crew were being hosed down in the decontamination tent. René Jurock, REMONDIS manager responsible for the north, was also happy with how everything went: “We very much hope that we’ll never have to deal with such an accident. Thanks to such exercises, though, it’s good to know that the Lübeck fire brigade is able to deal with whatever disaster is thrown at them.” 

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