Mohan Murti

Trash disposal: It starts at the very beginning

MOHAN MURTI | Updated on January 20, 2018 Published on May 13, 2013

India needs to apply the good practices evolved by Germany.

When I lived in Paris in 1985, forceful environmental concerns came to the fore in Europe and focus was directed on waste management and recycling.

Fortress Europe had just been formed and consumption patterns were rapidly changing, throughout Europe. It was the unique urban sprawl that created severe environmental, social and economic impact for both the cities and the countryside of Europe.

The key response by European governments was to toughen environmental and waste regulation laws. From Germany’s ordinance to reduce packaging and increase taxes, to Denmark imposing taxes on waste disposal, the EU passed stiff laws on incinerator emissions, negotiated agreement to a radical reduction in landfill and introduced a community-wide directive to cut packaging waste.

German example

Today, there are about 500 million citizens living in Europe who throw away around 3 billion tonnes of waste, each year. That amounts to over 6 tonnes of waste for every European citizen.

It is the well-planned, thorough, painstaking waste recycling and management efforts that significantly reduce the environment impact.

This massive movement across the Continent has turned Europe into a recycling society, avoiding waste and using unavoidable waste as a resource wherever possible.

In all these efforts, one nation that stands out as a great pioneer of the new waste economy is Germany.

Germany has developed some of the most innovative technologies and good practices that can provide invaluable lessons to the rest of the world, including India, which is urbanising rapidly.

Around 95 per cent of the waste the country generates is successfully recovered and reused, every year. To operate such a successful waste management system nationwide is certainly no small feat, but for the past several years the conscientious Germans have made it look easy. So how do they do it?

It starts at the very beginning of the waste creation process — with the product manufacturers: waste avoidance, waste recovery and environmentally compatible disposal. And ends with every home that ensures safe and responsible disposal.

The concept is based on the principle “polluter pays”, in which private industries are responsible for eliminating waste. In other words, those who create the waste are responsible for cleaning up the mess.

Packaging Waste

Germany’s three-point strategy doesn’t apply to just the country’s solid and packaging wastes, but also to liquid, gaseous, hazardous, radioactive and medical wastes.

In 1991, Germany adopted its Packaging Ordinance, which requires all manufacturers to collect and then recycle or, reuse their packaging after it is disposed of by consumers.

Making corporations responsible for their packaging to the end of its life cycle encourages them to package goods with fewer materials in order to minimise recycling and disposal costs.

This is done through the Dual System — the Green Dot Trademark. Manufacturers pay a fee to become a member of the DSD and are then permitted to print Der Gruene Punkt (the Green Dot) trademark on all their packaging.

Currently, the Green Dot system is used by more than 1,50,000 companies in 27 European countries. More than 90 per cent of all the packaging produced in Germany is recovered and recycled, each year.

The country’s recycling efforts not only keep waste out of landfills but also avoid an estimated 1.5 million tonnes of annual CO2 emissions.

An important element of ensuring collection and recycling of bottles and cans is the ‘Pfand’ system, best translated as “bottle deposits”.

Pfand is a certain portion of the price on a bottled drink that you get back if you return said bottle to a certified outlet.

Large household waste such as broken or old furniture, electronic appliances must be dropped off at a special recycling yard.

Thermal waste treatment is one of the main pillars of waste management in Germany.

The appropriate installations for thermal treatment facilities depend on the type of waste — municipal waste, medical waste and from hospitals, hazardous waste, sewage sludge, etc. Apart from the business of waste disposal, almost all the plants convert the energy to deliver electricity, heat and process steam.

All the thermal waste treatment plants operating in Germany meet the requirements set out in the European Waste Incineration Directive.

Bio Waste

Private and public waste management companies in Germany collected about 12 million tonnes of bio waste from households. The average collection rate is about 100 kg per citizen in a year. Garden and park waste is about 4 million tonnes.

Roughly 90 per cent of this quantity is composted and 10 per cent fermented in biogas plants.

Germany is working overtime to maintain its number one position in the recycling race. By 2020, Germany hopes to find a way to reuse every last scrap of every item produced, achieving ‘zero waste’ goal. After all, turning waste into wealth not only makes good environmental sense but also turns “trash” into “cash”.

(The author is former Europe Director, CII, and lives in Cologne, Germany.)

Published on May 13, 2013
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