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The art of recycling: Is Germany providing the whole package?

Germany is moving forward with recycling, paving the way for the future

Germany is Europe’s leader in recycling. At the same time there is still clear room for improvement. The German circular economy has grown strongly in recent years and is expected to continue with a growth of 5.2 per cent per year through to 2025, according to the Federal Ministry for the Environment, Nature Conservation and Nuclear Safety.

The German circular economy has grown strongly in recent years and is expected to continue with a growth of 5.2 per cent per year through to 2025, according to the Federal Ministry for the Environment, Nature Conservation and Nuclear Safety.

The principle of “polluter pays” has for decades been the cornerstone of the German approach. Germany has a first-mover advantage in waste management law. As early as 1991, manufacturers in Germany were required to take responsibility for their packaging. This was followed by The Waste Management Act of 1996 which provides the backbone for Germany’s leadership of the circular economy. The act defines responsibilities during the product life cycle providing a framework to manufacture durable products. It was amended in 2012 to adopt the EU waste management directive into German law. Since 2015, biological waste as well as paper, metal, plastics, and glass have to be collected separately.

European statistics show that Germany recycled (material recovery) nearly 71 per cent of packaging waste in 2016. The common EU target is to recycle 75 per cent of packaging waste by 2030. Higher recycling targets enhance the need for new and improved recycling technologies.

Innovation in the start-up scene in Germany is paving the way for the future. The Binee initiative, which originated in Leipzig, is one example of a successful modern recycling scheme. Binee is a local in-store collection service which disposes of electric and electronic appliances. It rewards consumers with a discount for every returned device. The Binee vision is of a transparent recycling process. It tells consumers via an app where their device ends up. The Binee solution is used in two main fields: electronic waste and pharmaceuticals. There’s no reason why waste disposal can’t be fun.

Further, foreign innovators and entrepreneurs have been quick to seize the opportunity to operate in Germany. Tarpaper Recycling is a Danish company, established in 2006. The EU-funded ‘From Roof to Road’ project, of which Tarpaper is a partner, succeeded in demonstrating that the bitumen in waste roofing felt could be reused in asphalt for road construction and repair. This waste had traditionally been deposited in landfills or burned. Tarpaper’s patented method for recycling roofing felt waste was deployed via the company’s German operations in Brandenburg, Thüringen and Niedersachsen at the start of 2017. Lower raw material costs and reduced CO2 emissions are the main benefits.

Waste management in Germany is a powerful economic sector. Colour-coded recycling bins are everywhere, mostly labelled in English as well as German, so tourists have no excuse. More than 270,000 people work in waste management companies with combined annual turnover of around €70 billion, according to the Federal Environment Ministry. More than 15,500 waste management facilities are helping to conserve resources through recycling and recovery.

More than 270,000 people work in waste management companies with combined annual turnover of around €70 billion, according to the Federal Environment Ministry

Germany is still pushing the envelope in terms of new legislation. A new act that will come into force at the start of 2019 raises the bar for recycling of packaging. The goal for plastic is 63 per cent by 2022, rising to 90 per cent for metal, glass and paper. As a result, shops will be forced to distinguish between reusable and non-reusable bottles on their shelves. The act will also offer incentives for packaging producers to incorporate recyclability considerations into packaging design, and to use recycled or renewable materials. Retailers will be obliged to clearly highlight on store shelves whether beverage packaging is reusable or disposable with a target of 80 per cent of such packaging per beverage carton.

Retailers will be obliged to clearly highlight on store shelves whether beverage packaging is reusable or disposable with a target of 80 per cent of such packaging per beverage carton.

In general, recycling and better use of resources are certain to be core issues in both the public and private sectors in the years ahead. The rise of one and two-person households, eating out, and mail order have all added to the packaging problem. But with its industrial strength and forward-looking attitudes, Germany is an excellent location for developing and applying new solutions.

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