Is Germany burning too much?

Germany has a long way to go to achieve a circular economy, incinerating too much and recycling too little, according to a new study by the Oeko-Institut and Alwast Consulting on behalf of the NABU, one of the country’s oldest and largest environment associations.

Germany currently incinerates 26 million tonnes of waste each year, but this could be reduced to 21 million tonnes if its waste laws were fully implemented, waste consistently separated and recycling quotas met.

The study cites three examples of large gaps in the enforcement of Germany’s waste laws:

Biowaste: Under the Closed Substance Cycle Act, (Kreislaufwirtschaftsgesetz), biowaste must be collected separately in the municipalities, but a failure to achieve this means that instead of being converted into biogas and compost, biowaste is ending up at waste incineration plants instead.

Commercial waste: The commercial waste ordinance (Gewerbeabfallverordnung) stipulates that waste fractions such as metals, wood or plastics must be collected separately. However, due to a lack of on-the-spot checks by law enforcement agencies, only a small proportion of commercial waste is actually collected separately and then recycled, meaning that the majority is simply incinerated. By implementing the law properly it would be possible to divert a further another 1.7 million tonnes of waste away from incineration each year.

Packaging waste: The Packaging Act (Verpackungsgesetz) specifies recycling quotas for various packaging waste – by 2022, 63% of plastic packaging waste must be recycled. However, the study finds that it is unclear whether the legal requirements are being met, with manufacturers unafraid of the consequences of failing to comply.

The study shows that 49 of Germany’s 66 waste incineration plants will be in need of modernisation by 2030, affecting more than 60% of total capacity. It argues that improved recycling and adherence to the existing laws would reduce the requirement for incineration, leading to huge savings through the dismantling of plants rather than their modernisation. “The money would be much better spent, if you put it into an effective waste management infrastructure with more sorting and recycling, more waste advice and measures to reduce the total amount of waste” commented NABU waste specialist Michael Jedelhauser.

AcuComm’s WasteView project database currently covers 29 waste-to-energy and incineration projects in Germany.

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