Division III

Dr. Bettina RechenbergClick to enlarge
Dr. Bettina Rechenberg is the head of Division III
Source: Susanne Kambor / Umweltbundesamt

Division III investigates a host of issues, including the following: How can production processes be made greener? How can natural resources be conserved?

Sustainable Production and Products, Waste Management

In one way or another all aspects of product lifecycles, from raw material production to end-of-life disposal, provoke considerable environmental pollution. Division III investigates these problems along the entire supply and lifecycle chain and tries to find viable solutions that will genuinely serve the cause of environmental protection. The Division promotes implementation of these solutions, provides both experts and the general public with information concerning innovative improvements, and assists the German federal government as well as European and international government agencies and NGOs by making recommendations aimed at resolving specific problems. To this end, Division III lays the groundwork for effective legal frameworks and for the economic and other instruments needed to achieve the relevant objectives.

Resource stewardship

Division III devotes a great deal of effort to all environmental and public health aspects of resource stewardship. For example: What impact does the scarcity of finite but strategically important rare metals have on the development of environmental technologies such as wind power, solar power, and electric cars? How can such resources be used more efficiently and recovered in greater quantities? Are substitute materials available that would serve the same purposes as these rare metals?

The impact of such resources’ main industrial users (metal ore, metallurgy, cement and glass companies; foundries; paper manufacturers; building contractors and demolition companies; the packaging and solar industries) on our water, air and soil, on waste generation, and on energy and resource use are analyzed and assessed by Division III in terms of all environmental media.

To do this, Division staff use domestic and international data with the goal of determining the state of the art and (where warranted) optimizing it in collaboration with the scientific, business and political communities in keeping with the concept of best available techniques (BAT). The Ministry of the Environment’s Environmental Innovation Programme funds selected innovative undertakings, mainly concerning technical processes aimed at avoiding or largely eliminating pollution from the get-go, or effective ways to reduce energy and resource use. The goal here is to institute far reaching production and product-integrated environmental protection measures so as to promote more sustainable products and manufacturing processes.

Environmental protection without borders

Inasmuch as national boundaries are to all intents and purposes irrelevant for many environmental protection measures, Division III’s experts are members of a host of international bodies (particularly EU working groups), with the goal of spreading the word to other member states concerning the innovative environmental protection solutions Germany has instituted, and helping such states to apply these solutions at home. As one of the UBA’s top priorities is European or international harmonization of extremely far reaching environmental, health and technical standards, Division III also compiles data concerning accidents in the chemical industry at home and abroad that in some cases have extremely serious health and environmental consequences. The Division investigates the causes of these accidents, with the goal of developing technical and organizational measures aimed at avoiding such incidents or limiting their impact. To this end, the Division also seeks to tighten safety rules and regulations by conducting research, drafting recommendations and contributing to the work of various panels and committees. Division staff encourage regional-state officials to exchange information, and recommendations aimed at nationwide implementation of safety measures are drafted. The emphasis here is on biogas facilities, flooding and other natural sources of risk, the feasibility of using inherently safe technology, and ways to handle substances that are hazardous to water.

Environmental degradation tracking

Using cutting edge scientific methods such as lifecycle assessments and material flow analyses, we track environmental degradation across all environmental media and for all lifecycle stages and are committed to reducing such pollution. We support sustainable consumption and green public procurement with the goal of promoting the sale of eco-friendly products and the kinds of lifestyles that are essential for sustainable development.

Environmental seal of quality

Another example of Division III’s tasks is the seal of environmental quality known as Blauer Engel (Blue Angel Eco Label), which indicates that a given product is more eco-friendly than other products of the same type.
This environmental seal of quality is used for countless products, including (to name just a few) paint containing less solvent and other contaminants; technical devices that are quieter and more energy efficient; and products made of recycled materials. In order for a product to qualify for the Blauer Engel, it must first be investigated. The ideal Blauer Engel product will be one whose cradle to grave lifecycle can be given an environmentally clean bill of health in as many respects as possible.

Recycling

Inasmuch as upon reaching the end of its useful life a product must either be recycled or disposed of, Division III places a great deal of emphasis on recycling in its daily work. Our goal in this regard is implementation of a multi-phase system (as required by law) that first and foremost avoids waste generation. Unavoidable waste should be suitable for reclaiming or recycling in one form or another; and if not, the waste generated by the product should be disposable in an environmentally safe fashion. Waste should be disposed of or recycled using a method that is exactly right for its characteristics, using the most technically and logistically suitable method from an environmental and cost standpoint.

Division III’s unit Anlaufstelle Basler Übereinkommen (focal point Basel Convention) has been tasked with issuing permits for cross-border waste transport through German territory. The unit provides industries, government officials and the general public with information and advice aimed at avoiding illegal cross-border transport of hazardous waste.

Sewage treatment optimization

Division III also works to improve the state of the art for sewage effluent quality and other sewage treatment technologies, and investigates the limits that can or should be applied to the various treatment processes. The Division’s work in this domain mainly concerns revising sewage treatment regulations aimed at minimizing air, energy, soil and resource use.

Implementing and enforcing environmental regulations are contingent upon the availability of standardized measurement and assay methods. Division III coordinates standards related activities for reference assays for some 90 Federal Water Act (WHG) and Wastewater Charges Act (AbwAG) parameters and for the 55 sectors defined by Germany’s Wastewater Regulation (AbwV).

Biological, physicochemical and microbiological reference assay methods have been governed by international ISO and CEN standards since the 1980s. In this domain, Division III has at its disposal a wide ranging results oriented network. The UBA is in charge of all standards related activities. Use of statutory measurement instruments is enforced with the aid of the federal/regional-state Bioassay and Physicochemical Assay working group, whose activities are coordinated by Division III.

Source: Umweltbundesamt

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