Particularly against the background of the increasing global demand for natural resources, but also the challenges posed by climate change, the focus is increasingly shifting to a circular economy in which the aim is to achieve closed natural resource cycles with as little material loss as possible as early as the product development stage.
The first legal foundations for waste disposal were already developed in some parts of the country at the beginning of the 19th century. The first uniform federal regulation was created in 1972 with the enactment of the Waste Disposal Act (AbfG).
Environmental pollution, the scarcity of landfill sites in the 1980s and the growing realisation that materials and energy sources derived from nature are valuable resources have triggered the development of a modern recycling economy. This is largely shaped by the Recy- cling Management Act (KrWG), which is based on the EU Waste Framework Directive 2008/98/EC. An es- sential element of the KrWG is the so-called five-level waste hierarchy to be applied by waste owners and producers in the following order of priority: 1. Avoid- ance, 2. Preparation for reutilisation, 3. Recycling, 4. Other form of recovery – particularly energy recovery and backfilling, 5. Disposal.
One component of German waste legislation is the transfer of product responsibility to producers and distributors, who must ensure that the generation of waste is reduced from product development and production through to use and that environmentally-sound recycling or disposal procedures are in place.
The goal of a modern recycling economy is a sustain- able use of recyclable materials and the decoupling of waste volumes from economic performance, preferably a reduction in waste volumes with increasing economic growth. This goes hand-in-hand with the protection of water, soil and the climate by avoiding e.g. climate- damaging gases from landfills. In Germany, a landfill ban for untreated municipal waste has been in force since 2005.
The product responsibility for electric equipment will be developed further with the amendment of the Electrical and Electronic Equipment Act (ElektroG) and the re-adoption of the ordinance on requirements for processing old electric and electronic equipment, which comes into force on 1 January 2022. The Federal Government has now extended the existing obligation of retailers of electrical equipment to include the large discounters, supermarkets and other grocery retailers with a shop area of 800 m² or more. The collection network is going to be expanded, enabling consumers to dispose of old electrical and electronic equipment more easily and separating them from unsorted municipal waste at an early stage. In addition, the law contained greater detail in respect of the aims to extract pollution, in other words the targeted removal of pollutants and products containing pollu- tion from waste, conservation of resources, careful use, full avoidance of unnecessary use and replace- ment of resources. In order to prevent the illegal export of old electrical equipment and the hazards for man and the environment of incorrect handling of old equipment, the ElektroG now contains strong criteria for separating used equipment and old electri- cal devices. According to this principle, only checked and functional used equipment which is adequately protected against damage during transport and which has been properly documented may be exported as non-waste. The burden of proof lies with the exporter.
the production, quality assurance and the inclusion of mineral replacement substances in certain technical structures. Mineral substitute building materials within the scope of the ordinance include recycling building materials from construction and demolition waste, slag from metal production and ashes from thermal processes. The substitute building materials ordi- nance assists the aims of the circular economy. The aim is also to improve acceptance for using substitute building materials. This umbrella ordinance will enter into force on 1 August 2023.
A new calculation method has been introduced with the amendment of the EU Waste Framework Directive. The recycling rate is no longer based on the quantity of waste sent to the recycling plants (input quantity) but instead how much material is actually recycled (output quantity, after screening out material that cannot be recycled). The recycling figures achieved according to the new procedure will only be available after June 2022.
Paper and glass also have high recycling and usage rates; but the recycling of plastics still requires additional efforts:
- Paper/paperboard/cardboard, which is mainly collected separately, achieves a recycling rate of almost 100%.16 The usage rate of recovered paper is 76%.17 Recycling saves primary natural resources such as wood, kaolin and lime, but also water and energy. However, paper is not infinitely recyclable, since the fibres become progressively shorter during recycling.
- In the case of glass collection, the recycling rate also amounts to almost 100%.18However, this only applies to appropriately-sorted glass. Today, every glass packaging unit consists of up to 60% recycled glass, and for green glass the usage rate is as high as 95%.19 The recovery of the glass reduces the demand for the primary raw material quartz sand.
- Around 46.6% of the plastic waste (2.93 million tonnes out of 6.28 million tonnes) went into the material recycling process in 2019, the remainder was either recycled for energy purposes or dumped.20
- In 2019 the recycling rate for old electric devices was 85.4% and the utilisation rate was 97.3%. How- ever, in 2019 only 44.3% of old electric devices that had been marketed were actually collected. In order to increase this quantity and to achieve the collection rate of 65% set by the EU from 2019,21 the Federal Government extended with the amendment to the Electrical and Electronic Equipment Act the existing obligation of retailers of electrical equipment to include the large discounters, supermarkets and other grocery retailers with a shop area of 800 m² or more. As a result, the collection network is going to be expanded, enabling consumers to dispose of old electrical and electronic equipment more easily and separate them from unsorted municipal waste at an early stage.
Germany has made a number of efforts to better close material cycles and to manage resources more sparingly. Nevertheless, there are several areas where there is potential for improvement.
Germany has not achieved the collection rate of 65% for old electrical appliances set by the EU since 2019. The aim of the amendment to ElektroG 2021 is to ensure that considerably more valuable raw materials are recovered in the future from old electrical and electronic devices in Germany and that the EU specifi- cations are complied with. This is to be achieved through specified requirements for the management of these old devices, the obligation of sellers to take back old equipment and a more comprehensive network for collection.
The EU’s 2018 recycling management package commits the member states to a number of further steps to strengthen the waste hierarchy. For example, member states must take measures to promote the re-utilisation of products. The availability of spare parts, operating manuals and technical information is also to be improved.
1 DNR: Glossary. URL: https://www.dnr.de/rohstoffpolitik-20/glossar/grundbegriffe/primaer-und-sekundaerrohstoffe/ (Accessed on 22 November 2021).
2 Law on implementing the requirements of the Single-Use Plastics Directive and the Waste Framework Directive in the packaging and other laws dated 9 June 2021.
3 Ordinance prohibiting the placing on the market of certain single-use plastic products and products made from oxo-degradable plastic (EWKVerbotV) dated 24 June 2021.
4 Ordinance on requirements to include mineral substitute building materials in technical structures (ErsatzbaustoffV) dated 9 July 2021.
5 Material recovery as defined by the law means all recovery processes with the exception of energy recovery and processing into materials intended to be used as a fuel or another means of energy generation. Material recovery particularly includes preparation for reuse, recycling and backfilling (§ 3 (23a) KrWG). Energy-related recovery, on the other hand, means the preparation of waste for thermal recycling by means of incineration. However, a portion of the waste is also incinerated to dispose of it.
6 Destatis (2021): Waste Balance 2019. URL: https://www.destatis.de/DE/Themen/Gesellschaft-Umwelt/Umwelt/Abfallwirtschaft/Publikationen/ Downloads-Abfallwirtschaft/abfallbilanz-pdf-5321001.html (Accessed on 22 November 2021).
7 Destatis (2021): Waste Balance 2019.
8 Federal Association of the German Waste Disposal, Water and Raw Materials Industry (BDE) (2020): Status report of the German recycling industry 2020 (Statusbericht der deutschen Kreislaufwirtschaft 2018). URL: https://www.bde.de/themen/statusbericht-kreislaufwirtschaft/ (Accessed on 22 November 2021).
9 The recycling rate (calculated on the basis of the weight of waste sent to recycling facilities) differs from the usage rate (which is the percentage of materials actually recycled and their actual use in production).
10 Fraunhofer Institute for Environmental, Safety and Energy Technologies UMSICHT (2016): Technical, economic, ecological and social factors of steel scrap. URL: https://www.bdsv.org/fileadmin/service/publikationen/Studie_Fraunhofer_Umsicht.pdf (Accessed on 22 November 2021). More recent figures are currently not available.
11 Bundesvereinigung Deutscher Stahlrecycling Unternehmen e.V. (Federal Association of German Steel Recycling Companies), Bundesverband Sekundär- rohstoffe und Entsorgung e.V. (Federal Association for Secondary Raw Materials and Waste Disposal) (2019): German steel scrap balance. Annual scrap market report. URL: https://www.bvse.de/dateien2020/2-PDF/02-Presse/04-Schrott-ES-Kfz/2020/200424_060_Jahresrueckblick_Schrottmarkt_2019. pdf (Accessed on 22 November 2021).
12 Metal Trade Association (Wirtschaftsvereinigung Metalle) (2019): Metal Statistics 2019. URL: https://www.wvmetalle.de/presse/alle-publikationen/ artikeldetail/?tx_artikel_feartikel%5Bfile%5D=fe3ca3c3ae5745332eb47663dcab29fbad7c0799&tx_artikel_feartikel%5Bsrc%5D=7990&tx_artikel_feart- ikel%5Baction%5D=download&cHash=aee391c88ffc19125fb9c4e68a5ea217 (Accessed on 22 November 2021).
13 General Association of the Aluminium Industry: Recycling from the outset. URL: http://www.aluinfo.de/kreislaufwirtschaft.html (Accessed on 22 November 2021).
14 BDE (2020): Status report of the German recycling industry 2020 (Statusbericht der deutschen Kreislaufwirtschaft 2018). 102 Destatis (2021): Waste Balance 2019.
15 BDE (2020): Status report of the German recycling industry 2020 (Statusbericht der deutschen Kreislaufwirtschaft 2018).
16 Destatis (2021): Waste Balance 2019.
17 BDE (2020): Status report of the German recycling industry 2020 (Statusbericht der deutschen Kreislaufwirtschaft 2018).
18 Destatis (2021): Waste Balance
19 Ministry of Economic Affairs and Energy (2020): Energy transition in industry. Potential and interactions with the energy sector. Glass industry’s fact URL: https://www.bmwi.de/Redaktion/DE/Downloads/E/energiewende-in-der-industrie-ap2a-branchensteckbrief-glas.pdf? blob=publica- tionFile&v=4 (Accessed on 22 November 2021).
20 German Environment Agency: Plastic waste. URL: https://www.umweltbundesamt.de/daten/ressourcen-abfall/verwertung-entsorgung-ausgewae- hlter-abfallarten/kunststoffabfaelle#kunststoffe-produktion-verwendung-und-verwertung (Accessed on 22 November 2021).
21 German Environment Agency Electrical waste: Germany fell just below the EU collection rate of 45 URL: https://www.umweltbundesamt.de/ presse/pressemitteilungen/elektroschrott-deutschland-verfehlt-eu-sammelquote (Accessed in November 2021).
22 The circular economy for construction (2021): Mineral construction waste – Monitoring URL: https://kreislaufwirtschaft-bau.de/Arge/Bericht-12. pdf (Accessed on 22 November 2021).
23 German Building Materials Association – Quarried natural resources (2016): Study “The demand for primary and secondary raw materials of the quarried natural resources industry in Germany until 2035” URL: https://www.baustoffindustrie.de/fileadmin/user_upload/bbs/Dateien/2016-04-07_BBS_Ro- pdf (Accessed on 22 November 2021).
24 BDE (2020): Status report of the German recycling industry 2020 (Statusbericht der deutschen Kreislaufwirtschaft 2018).
25 German Federal Environment Agency (2019): Material flow-oriented determination of the contribution of the secondary raw materials industry to the conservation of primary raw materials and the increase of resource productivity. URL: https://www.umweltbundesamt.de/sites/default/files/medi- en/1410/publikationen/2019-03-27_texte_34-2019_sekundaerrohstoffwirtschaft.pdf (Accessed on 22 November 2021).