German Law on Life-Cycle Management
Recycling gets the green light
A national legal framework guarantees uniform competitive conditions and high rates of recycling.
Realignment of german life-cycle management and waste legislation
Germany’s high environmental and waste management standards are mainly the result of the commitment made by the private sector, both in terms of expertise and finance. The eagerly anticipated and recently announced changes to the German Law on Life-Cycle Management should help ensure the standards achieved so far continue to rise. A number of important points have yet to be resolved.
The draft Law on Life-Cycle Management set forth by the Federal Government on 30 March 2011 has three main goals: first, the five-stage waste hierarchy outlined under the European Waste Framework Directive is to be transferred into German law; second, material recycling rates are to be increased; third, the division of waste management tasks between local municipalities and the private sector is to be specified more clearly. The draft legislation is not particularly clear on some issues.
Specific measures were outlined to promote recycling and other ways of reusing materials. According to these, paper, metal, plastic and glass waste must be collected separately across the country by 01 January 2015 at the latest. The recycling rate for municipal waste should be at least 65 % by 2020. A figure of 70 % will apply to construction and demolition waste by then, although this guideline is to be re-examined before the end of 2016. It is a pity these recycling targets do not really represent challenging hurdles, as the current recycling rate for municipal waste is already almost 63 %. As far as construction waste is concerned, the required figure could easily be changed to 80 % or higher to ensure sustainable recycling success.
The increased obligations to hand over waste are also open to criticism. They now include an additional duty, whereby private householders have to hand over mixed waste to public sector waste management businesses.
The transfer of responsibility for collection notices passing to a neutral authority marks an important change. This means it is no longer possible for the authority entrusted with disposal-related activities to make decisions – keeping it “in house” as it were – on whether collections are permitted. In addition, an authority may no longer prohibit commercial collections simply because it has reservations but must produce hard facts proving the unreliability of the collecting party.
No answers to important questions
A key precondition for the desired increase in recycling rates is the blanket introduction of standard recycling bins for the collection of packaging and other waste material containing plastic and metal. Although the new Law on Life-Cycle Management provides the legal basis for this, specific legal regulations are expected to be passed under a separate procedure at a later date in the form of an ordinance or a free-standing act. As such, questions regarding the precise division of waste management tasks between local municipalities and the private sector remain unanswered for now. In reality, it would be hard to find one local municipality which owns or operates its own plants capable of performing the complex tasks associated with environmental services, such as sorting, processing and marketing secondary raw materials. Many local municipalities would also find it inappropriate to make a commitment in these areas, given their tough budgetary position – particularly since private operators can provide these services more cheaply and efficiently.
Business game to ensure efficient implementation
In order to clarify any unresolved technical, conceptual and financial issues before making a decision regarding responsibility for recycling bins, Germany’s Federal Environment Agency (UBA) has launched a business game. This involves the various stakeholders, such as local municipalities, the waste management sector, environmental associations, manufacturers, retailers and consumers. Those participating, including REMONDIS, work within a strategy group and two discussion groups. The German Ministry for the Environment is set to build on this work in the summer of 2011 by making recommendations for the efficient implementation of the Law on Life-Cycle Management.
Around 90 % of all recycling plants currently operating in Germany were set up by private sector recycling companies.
The sector for secondary raw materials already provides around 14 % of all raw materials used in Germany.