Waste management

Waste sorting facilitieClick to enlarge
Waste sorting facilities are indispensable for waste management
Source: azthesmudger / Fotolia.com

Waste management is responsible for the entire waste cycle: from waste prevention, re-use and recycling to recovery and disposal. Their tasks include collection, transport, ,sorting and treatment of waste.

Waste management in Germany

For Germans, waste collection and disposal are self-evident. However, this is the result of a long development in the field of waste management, waste technology and waste regulations.

The legal framework for waste management in Germany had its beginnings in the early 19th century, when a few regions began adopting waste disposal laws. As the cause and effect relationship between a lack of municipal hygiene and widespread diseases such as cholera became ever clearer, people began to grasp the importance of proper drainage and waste disposal systems, leading to the adoption of appropriate measures in this regard by municipal and regional authorities.

Germany’s first uniform national waste disposal law, the 1972 Waste Disposal Act (Abfallbeseitigungsgesetz), has been amended and adjusted from time to time, and is now our current Waste Management Act (Kreislaufwirtschaftsgesetz – KrWG).

From waste disposal to waste management

Waste management has changed tremendously since these early days, from mere disposal management to full-blown waste management – a process that constitutes a veritable paradigm shift. In Germany, waste management now aims to conserve natural resources and manage waste in an environmentally sound manner, whereby sustainable strengthening of environmental and climate protection measures, as well as resource efficiency, play a key role.

The centrepiece of Germany’s Waste Management Act is a five-level waste hierarchy that lays down a fundamental series of steps comprising waste prevention, reuse, recycling, and other elements besides, including energy recovery, and finally waste disposal. In any given instance, the best option from an environmental protection standpoint always takes precedence, whereby ecological, technical, economic and social effects are to be taken into account as well. Thus waste management practices in Germany systematically aim to minimize waste generation and maximize recycling, while at the same time ensuring that the remaining waste is disposed of in a manner consistent with the common welfare.

The various types of waste have to be collected separately at source (source separaration at the collection point by depositing the various types of waste in separate containers designated for this purpose) so as to maximize the recycling potential of the various waste streams. Separate collection of the various types of waste is necessary in order to maintain waste-stream specific quality standards for recycling. Under the Waste Management Act, beginning in 2015 separate collection of all of the various waste streams comprising paper, glass, plastic and household organic waste will be mandatory.
The instrument of product responsibility promulgated by the Waste Management Act defines responsibilities along the product life cycle, as well as incentives for manufacturers to make durable products that generate a minimum amount of waste. The principle of product responsiblity is also intended to ensure environmentally sound recovery and disposal of end-of-life goods.

Between 325 and 350 million tons (net) of waste are produced in Germany each year, with construction and demolition waste (including road construction) accounting for 60 percent of this waste, while municipal waste accounts for 14 percent, and hazardous waste for 5 percent. For further information see under Waste Statistics (Abfallstatistik).

These various waste streams are managed in Germany via a number of sophisticated waste management methods, whose optimization is promoted and supported by the UBA. These methods entail the use of various waste treatment techniques, depending on the type of waste involved.

Inasmuch as waste management in Germany is highly advanced from a technological standpoint, the UBA strategically supports knowledge and technology transfer instruments.

In 1994, the the Focal Point to the Basel Convention was established in the UBA Basel. The focal point’s main task is to issue permits for transfrontier shipment of waste through Germany, respond to queries, and advise businesses and government agencies. It is also the point of contact for other focal points and correspondents, as well as for the UNEP secretariat and the European Commission.