Waste prevention

A waste container being emptied Click to enlarge
A waste container being emptied
Source: Kadmy / Fotolia.com

Waste prevention conserves resources and protects people and the environment. It is therefore a primary goal of the circular economy. In 2013, the Waste Prevention Program with the participation of the federal states was adopted. It was drawn up with support of the German Environment Agency. The waste prevention program was reviewed in 2019 and updated in 2021.

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Waste Prevention as part of protecting the environment and human health

The aim of waste policy is to promote the circular economy in order to conserve natural resources and ensure the protection of people and the environment in the generation and management of waste. Economic growth and the effects on people and the environment associated with waste generation should be decoupled as far as possible. In order to achieve the waste prevention that is a priority according to Section 6 of the German Circular Economy Act (“Kreislaufwirtschaftsgesetz”, KrWG), the following goals must be pursued:

  • reducing the amount of waste,
  • reducing the harmful effects of waste on the environment and human health,
  • reducing the content of harmful substances in materials and products.

On the basis of Article 29 of the Waste Framework Directive (2008/98/EC in conjunction with (EU) 2018/851) and Section 33 of the German Circular Economy Act, a waste prevention program was also drawn up in Germany.

The results of research projects provided a significant scientific and technical basis for the waste prevention program. Based on the results of a first project "Development of scientific and technical foundations for a national waste prevention programme" (German: „Erarbeitung der wissenschaftlich-technischen Grundlagen für die Erstellung eines bundesweiten Abfallvermeidungsprogramms“),which for the first time summarized existing measures in a collection of examples, selected waste prevention measures at governmental level (i.e. at federal, state and municipal level) were examined in depth in the follow-up project "Substantive implementation of Article 29 of Directive 2008/98/EC" (German: "Inhaltliche Umsetzung von Art. 29 der Richtlinie 2008/98/EG"). This enabled statements to be made on the waste prevention potential and the ecological impact of the measures.

As a result, measures were recommended that have a relevant waste prevention potential or positively influence the framework conditions for waste prevention (e.g. through information and awareness-raising). Furthermore, the measures should not have any serious negative ecological, social or economic effects when implemented. In many cases, it is not individual waste prevention measures but the interaction of different instruments that leads to successful waste prevention. This is because many measures support or complement each other.

Based on these scientific findings of the German Environment Agency, the Federal Environment Ministry drew up the first nationwide waste prevention program (German: Abfallvermeidungsprogramm), which was adopted by the Federal Cabinet on 31.07.2013.

In the following years, possible indicators for measuring and reviewing the success of waste prevention (German: Indikatoren zur Messung und Überprüfung des Abfallvermeidungserfolges) were developed and discussed in order to make waste prevention more measurable. Possible evaluation criteria were analyzed in depth and checked for their suitability for measuring the success of the measures defined in the waste prevention program. A set of indicators was developed, which comprises 8 indicators and 12 key figures and would enable continuous measurement of the success of waste prevention measures.

Raising awareness and communication are important levers for promoting the environmentally conscious use of resources and waste-preventing consumption and use. In order to tap into the potential available here, different approaches to the individual social groups are required. In the project "Identifying sociological determinants of waste prevention and designing target group-specific communication" (German: „Identifizierung soziologischer Bestimmungsfaktoren der Abfallvermeidung und Konzipierung einer zielgruppenspezifischen Kommunikation“), everyday practices of using and consuming various products in different social groups (milieus) were examined and approaches to target group-specific communication were developed. A mix of social science methods was used, including a Germany-wide online survey, qualitative interviews and group discussions as well as a sorting analysis. It was shown that consumers are aware of the environmental problems caused by waste and also see a connection to their own consumption habits, but at the same time they also question the responsibility of politicians and companies. Potential for waste prevention can be identified in many fields of action. They can be exploited above all if they can be integrated into the complex everyday lives of consumers. Insights into the results of the study on various areas of waste prevention and waste separation are provided by fact sheets and the handout "From the idea to the concept. How can target group-specific communication in waste management succeed?" (German: „Von der Idee zum Konzept. Wie kann eine zielgruppenspezifische Kommunikation in der Abfallwirtschaft gelingen?“).

The waste prevention program was reviewed for the first time in 2019. In the research project on updating the waste prevention program (German: Weiterentwicklung des Abfallvermeidungsprogrammes), the status of the implementation of the waste prevention program adopted in 2013 was determined and evaluated at federal, state and municipal level. The results showed that the program addresses a large number of starting points and is very broadly based in terms of content, but that the structure of the program to date has caused confusion as to what the stakeholders should be guided by when designing their waste prevention efforts. It should therefore be prioritized to specific waste streams when it is updated and a more action-oriented structure should be achieved and more firmly anchored institutionally. The waste streams to be prioritized should be plastic packaging waste, food waste, waste electrical and electronic equipment and construction and demolition waste as well as the prevention approaches to be prioritized: public procurement, repair/reuse and promotion of product-service systems. For each waste stream and prevention approach, specific courses of action were also identified and the need for further research pointed out. On this basis, the Federal Environmental Ministry worked with the federal states to update the waste prevention program (German: Fortschreibung des Abfallvermeidungsprogrammes), which was published in January 2021.

In the implementation process of the waste prevention program, the exchange and dialogue of stakeholders along the entire value chain play an important role in targeted cooperation with a common understanding of existing challenges and the design of possible prevention activities for effective waste prevention measures. The waste prevention dialogues of the years 2014-2017 formed a first important focus, which are now being held again in 2021 on selected topics for the update of the waste prevention program. Further information in German can be found here.


Reuse of products

On the basis of Article 4 and Article 7 of the Waste Framework Directive (2008/98/EC in connection with (EU) 2018/851), a legal act was adopted in 2020 to establish a common methodology and format for reporting on reuse. This stipulates that from 2021 onwards, Member States must report data on the reuse of products (textiles, electrical and electronic equipment, furniture, construction material and products) to the European Commission on the basis of quantitative and qualitative data. The national design of the data collection and methodology was developed in a research project.


Prevention of food waste

The agricultural production and processing of food, including the large number of global transportation processes for German food consumption, is accompanied by intensive use of natural resources. It is therefore particularly serious, not only from an ethical perspective but also from an environmental perspective, that relevant parts of the produced and processed food are not consumed in their further life cycle but instead become waste.

Against this background, the intensive expert debate on measures to prevent such food losses has been underpinned by programs and projects for several years (e.g. Agenda 2030, German Sustainability Strategy). This shows that the implementation of effective prevention measures regularly requires the cooperation of various stakeholders. The aim is to reduce food waste by focusing on the entire value chain - i.e. not just consumer behavior - in order to reduce waste. By 2030, the German government aims to halve per capita food waste at retail and consumer level and reduce food losses along the production and supply chain, including post-harvest losses.

However, concerted action requires the consensual identification of sensible starting points and the joint development of possible prevention measures. In addition, the data available on food waste along the supply chain is not always sufficient to reliably quantify the contributions of the individual sectors to the total amount of food waste. A status quo analysis of food waste for 2015 (German: Status-quo-Analyse der Lebensmittelabfälle für das Jahr 2015) has already been published. The indicator for food waste in tons of fresh mass of the entire value chain, divided into five sub-sectors (primary production, processing and manufacturing, retail and other distribution of food, restaurants and food services, households), is based on the European legal act (EU) 2019/1597 on a common methodology and minimum quality requirements for the uniform measurement of levels of food waste and serves as the basis for continuous reporting from 2020 to 2030.


European Week for Waste Reduction (EWWR)

The European Week for Waste Reduction (EWWR), which takes place every year in November, offers a platform for a wide range of activities by local authorities, companies, private initiatives and environmental associations to raise public awareness of the issue of waste prevention. The diverse campaigns present practical solutions and impulses and show the broad spectrum of waste prevention measures: from advisory and educational offers to websites, exchange and give-away exchanges and much more. The official partner of the EWWR is the Federal Ministry for the Environment. The EWWR and the EU-wide day of action against littering "Let's clean-up Europe" (LCUE) have been coordinated by the German Association of Local Public Utilities of municipally determined infrastructure undertakings and economic enterprises (German: Verband kommunaler Unternehmen e.V.) since August 2014. Further information can be found here.