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Waste (Germany)

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Waste Waste
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German Federal Environment Agency
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German Federal Environment Agency
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Last updated
23 Nov 2010
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German Federal Environment Agency
Published: 26 Nov 2010 Modified: 13 Apr 2011 Feed synced: 23 Nov 2010 original

A sustainable policy for the conservation of natural resources assigns a high degree of importance to the creation of closed material cycles – from extraction of the raw materials through production, use and consumption to collection, to high-grade recovery.

Modern waste management is an integral component of sustainable materials flow management. Its aim is to decouple the amount of waste generated, including municipal waste, from economic growth.

The quantity of waste generated in Germany declined between 2000 and 2005, due to the reduction in building and demolition waste but rose again in 2006 and 2007, mainly due to increasing quantities of building and demolition waste. However, there was also an increase in waste from production and commerce.

Three-quarters of waste in Germany is pre-treated and sent for recovery – landfill is steadily decreasing. This trend is particularly noticeable for municipal waste, the landfill disposal of which has almost ceased. Above all, the ban on land filling non pre-treated municipal waste from the 1 June 2005 played a significant part in this.

The sustained high recovery rates lead to the conclusion that German waste management is making a significant contribution towards saving primary materials in production.

Waste management is also of importance for climate protection: the most obvious relative reduction – about 73 % – in greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions from waste management occurred between 1990 and 2008, largely due to the smaller quantity of landfilled waste. However, improvements could also be made in the efficiency of methane gas recovery from landfill sites.

With around 200 000 employees, waste management generates an annual turnover of approximately € 50 billion and is an important economic factor in Germany.

The state and impacts

Published: 26 Nov 2010 Modified: 13 Apr 2011 Feed synced: 23 Nov 2010 original


Generated waste

The waste from waste treatment plants was first shown in the waste balance sheet of the Federal Statistical Office in 2006. As a result, the generated waste – gross generated quantity – increased by the corresponding amount compared with previous years. In 2007, the gross generated quantity was 386.9 million tonnes, including 35.8 million tonnes of waste from waste treatment plants.

Generated waste permits a comparison to be made with the data for 2000 to 2005 without taking account of the waste from waste treatment plants – net generated quantity. In 2007, the net generated quantity amounted to 351.1 million tonnes, a fall of 14 % from 2000. This is largely due to a decline in building and demolition waste, although this has been increasing again since 2006.

Building and demolition waste, at 52 %, was the largest component of the gross generated waste in 2007. This waste plays a key role in relation to the management of the closed cycle. The largest element of this waste group is excavated spoil, which is mainly recycled, as to a significant degree is mineral building waste. The production of building and demolition waste runs largely parallel to the economic development of the construction industry.

In 2007 municipal waste, at 47.9 million tonnes, accounted for 12.4 % of gross generated waste. Almost 90 % of this, 41.8 million tonnes – was household waste.

In the balance sheet for 2000, the generated quantity of non-hazardous household waste was 458 kg/inhabitant, but rose to 508 kg/inhabitant by 2007. The recycling rate, however, increased from 51 % in 2000 to 77 % in 2007.

Waste recovery

The considerable efforts to recover waste have been successful – around 74 % of the gross generated waste was recovered in 2007.

Recycling of packaging waste: in 2006 more than 16 million tonnes of packaging waste were generated of which 78.8 % was recycled. The recycling rate increased by 0.3 % in comparison with the previous year. However, the material recycling of packaging waste has continued to decrease, and at 66.5 % in 2006 was 1.7 % lower than in 2005.

Of all the packaging waste generated in Germany, 45.3 % comes from private end-consumers. Packaging made from glass and tinplate, aluminium, plastic and paper/board/cardboard, including composites of these, accounted for 82 % of the total consumption of packaging in 2006. 54 % of packaging made from these materials went to private end-consumers. The Packaging Regulation (VerpackV) lays down quotas for the recycling of such packaging. Positive results are being achieved – 77.1 % was recycled in 2006.

Recycling of waste paper: in 2007, the consumption of paper, board and cardboard was around 256 kg per person – equivalent to 21.1 million tonnes overall.

In 2007 the total amount of waste paper recorded by the waste paper industry and private and municipal disposal facilities together with the quantity of waste paper supplied to or exported by the paper industry was 15.4 million tonnes. This gives a waste paper return rate of around 73%. In the German paper industry, 15.8 million tonnes of waste paper were recycled. The waste paper utilisation rate, i.e. the proportion of waste paper utilised in the entire domestic paper production (2007: 23.2 million tonnes) was thus approximately 68%. By increasing its use of waste paper, the German paper industry has succeeded in reducing specific loads on the environment. A higher rate of recycling could affect: the scarcity of fossil, energy sources, global warming potential, summer smog, acidification potential and the over-fertilisation of soils and watercourses. It is important to emphasise the precedence given to the global warming potential, which is an environmental policy priority. The fact that more timber remains in the forests and that the potential of the natural environment, that is the proportion of forest areas that is managed less intensively by humans, can increase as a result underlines the efficacy of paper recycling.

Battery return and recycling: manufacturers that are members of the joint return system for batteries (Gemeinsames Rücknahmesystem für Batterien) placed almost 34 000 tonnes of batteries on the market in the year 2008 – equivalent to 1.5 billion batteries. According to the 1998 Battery Directive (Batterie-Richtlinie), manufacturers and importers must ensure that batteries are returned after use and then sent for recycling and disposal in accordance with the regulations. The joint return system for Germany, the Stiftung Gemeinsames Rücknahmesystem Batterien (GRS Batterien) was established for this purpose. The proportion recycled has risen from 19 % in 1999 to 92 % by 2007, with the return and recycling rate for car batteries almost 100 %. The new Battery Act (Batteriegesetz) which came into effect in December 2009 lays down mandatory collection targets for ordinary batteries – 35 % by 2012 and 45 % by 2016.

Recycling of waste glass: a total of 7 535 million tonnes of glass and mineral fibres were manufactured in Germany in 2007. The main groups included container glass, approximately 4 045 million tonnes, and sheet glass, 1 737 million tonnes.

Glass can be returned to the glass melting process any number of times and processed into new products. Because recycled glass melts at lower temperatures than the raw materials required for glass manufacture, the energy requirement is reduced by approximately 0.2-0.3 % for every percentage point of shards added. Waste glass recycling thus leads to a noticeable reduction in environmental pollution, for example carbon dioxide (CO2) emissions, associated with the glass melting process and reduces landfill. The savings in raw materials – inter alia quartz sand, soda and lime –also helps reduce the environmental impacts of the production process. A start was made in 1974 with the establishment of a nationwide collection system for container glass and by 2006, the container glass recycling rate was 83.6 %.

Recycling of sheet glass: in the last few years, the collection systems for recovery of sheet glass products that are as far as possible unmixed and free from foreign bodies have been extended, in particular in the processing sector. According to an estimate by the Federal Association for Secondary Raw Materials and Disposal (Bundesverband ‘Sekundärrohstoffe und Entsorgung e.V.’), the quantity of sheet glass shards generated by the building and vehicle sectors was approximately 495 000 tonnes in 1998 of which around 60% was recycled.

In 2006, 1 100 tonnes out of around 12 000 tonnes of glass derived from the disposal of end-of-life vehicles – approximately 25 kg per end-of-life vehicle – found their way into recycling and re-use according to information provided by the Federal Statistical Office (2005: 636 tonnes).

Recycling of discharge bulbs (energy-saving light bulbs): around 100 million discharge bulbs are in use in Germany. Their particular environmental significance relates to their mercury content. The German Electrical and Electronic Equipment Act (ElektroG), which implements the new EU Directive on waste electrical and electronic equipment, also seeks to achieve a recycling rate of at least 80 % of the average weight of the bulbs. Basically, the waste bulbs must be collected separately and the mercury removed by specific treatment. Approximately 42 million used discharge bulbs were collected in 2008. A majority of manufacturers formed a national return system for their collection and recycling which has been approved by the relevant fair competition authorities (Lightcycle Retourlogistik und Service GmbH).

Recycling of end-of-life electrical and electronic equipment: from the point of view of environmental protection, end-of-life electrical and electronic equipment consists of a mixture of recyclable and harmful substances that is not easy to calculate. Components with a particularly high content of harmful substances include mercury switches, capacitors containing PCBs, display screens, PUR foams containing CFCs and printed circuit boards. Preference should be given to the re-use of complete items of equipment.

For all non-recycled equipment, utilisation rates of 70-80 % and recycling rates of 50-80% had to be achieved by 31 December 2006, depending on the category. Furthermore, specific pollutant reducing treatments must be carried out for end-of-life equipment, for example the removal of tubes from televisions or the separation of brominated plastic components. In accordance with the return of end-of-life equipment under the German Electrical and Electronic Equipment Act (ElektroG), the first report covers the year 2006. More than 8 kg of end-of-life electrical equipment were returned per person per year, and almost all quota targets were exceeded.

Recycling of plastic waste: about 12.5 million tonnes of plastics – excluding adhesives, varnishes, resins and fibres – were processed in Germany in 2007.

As in previous years, packaging was user of plastics –32.4 % of plastics processed in Germany were used in packaging. The construction sector occupied second place with 25.2 %. Other important areas of application were the vehicle industry, 9.2%, and the electrical/electronics sector with 7.4 %.

Plastic waste arises from the production of plastic moulding compounds, with their processing into semi-finished and finished products and after these products have been used. In total about 4.86 million tonnes of plastic waste were produced in Germany in 2007. This included approximately 3.81 million tonnes of post-consumer waste and approximately 1.05 million tonnes of production and processing waste. Around 2.17 million tonnes of plastic waste were recycled – 2.1 million tonnes of reusable materials; 0.07 million tonnes of recycled raw materials; 2.51 million tonnes were converted into energy or incinerated. And 0.18 million tonnes were disposed of in landfill sites. The waste recycling rates were 97.4 % and 99.7 % respectively for plastics production and processing. Somewhat less, 94.3% and 96.5% respectively of post-consumer waste from commercial final consumers and households, were recycled.

Quantity of end-of-life vehicles and recycling – whereabouts of end-of-life cars: approximately 3.8 million motor vehicles, including approximately 3.2 million cars, are removed from the vehicle register every year. In 2006, two-thirds of these cars were exported as used vehicles, 56 % went to EU countries (according to re-registrations under EU Directive 1999/37/EG – for 2007), 8 % to non-EU countries and only 16 % were recycled as end-of-life vehicles according to the Federal Statistical Office. The whereabouts of the remaining 20 % cannot be statistically verified. There may have been additional, statistically unrecorded, exports as well as thefts or use on private land.

According to the waste statistics, there were 504 330 end-of-life vehicles with an unladen vehicle weight of 453 392 tonnes in 2006, of which 499 756 (449 280 tonnes) originated in Germany.

Since 2006, the EU End-of-Life Vehicles Directive (2000/53/EC) and the German End-of-Life Vehicles Regulation (Altfahrzeugverordnung) have stipulated a recovery rate, including energy recovery, of 85 % of the unladen weight and a recycling rate of 80 %. These rates relate to the total generated quantity, and do not need to be achieved for each individual vehicle.

On the basis of data provided by the Federal Statistical Office and our own estimates, the Federal Environment Agency has determined the following end-of-life vehicle recycling rates for 2006:

86.8 % for re-use and recycling;

89.5 % for re-use and recycling (incl. energy recovery).

Building and demolition waste accounts for about 52 % of the total waste generated and accounted for the largest waste group in 2007. The recycling of this waste has been at a very high level, 88 %, for many years.

The associations of the German construction industry, architects and engineers, demolition contractors and building materials reprocessors that are represented in the working group of contributors to the recycling-based economy in the construction sector (Arbeitsgemeinschaft Kreislaufwirtschaftsträger Bau (KWTB) e.V.) gave a commitment in 1996 to reduce the disposal of recyclable building waste, excluding excavated spoil, by half by 2005, taking the 1995 as the starting point.

The KWTB submitted the 5th Monitoring Report on the voluntary commitment of the building industry (survey period 2004) to the Federal Ministry of the Environment in February 2007. This saw the end of the self-imposed commitment of the construction sector to the federal government.

  • Generated quantity and whereabouts of mineral building waste: mineral building waste (including excavated spoil), at 200.7 million tonnes, constituted the quantitatively most significant waste group 2004. At 128.3 million tonnes, around 64 % was accounted for by excavated spoil – soil and rocks – which can mostly be recycled immediately. Of the remaining 72.4 million tonnes of building waste – building rubble, road construction waste, building site waste and gypsum-based building waste ­ 49.6 million tonnes, 69 %, were recycled and around 27 million tonnes, 31 %, were disposed of. The target of the self-imposed commitment was thus more than met.

  • Use of recycled building materials: the recycled materials are used mainly for road construction. In 2004, 9.0 % of the primary raw materials used in construction (aggregates) were replaced by recycled building materials.

Organic waste collection and treatment: about 25 years ago, a start was made on the separate collection and recycling of biogenic waste. The quantity of treated organic waste has increased year-on-year since 1996, except in 2006. According to the Federal Statistical Office, around 13.2 million tonnes of biogenic waste was treated biologically – composted or digested – in 2007. This includes bio-waste from households and business, garden and park waste, catering waste, sewage sludge, waste from food processing and waste from agriculture all of which find their way to composting or anaerobic digestion plants.

In 2008, according to the Bundesgütegemeinschaft Kompost (BGK e.V., around 3 million tonnes of quality-assured compost were produced from organic waste. Recycling for compost took place as follows:

52.2 % in agriculture;

13.9 % in potting compost production;

11.3 % in landscaping;

9.9 % in domestic gardening;

4.8 % in speciality crop production;

4.5 % other;

3.4 % in horticulture.

Disposal of waste

The aim of German waste management is to reduce the disposal of waste to the unavoidable residual level in terms of quantity and pollutant content.

Unavoidable waste should be treated in such a way that it can be reused as secondary raw materials or at least kept in ecologically safe conditions. To achieve this, municipal waste must be subjected to mechanical-biological or thermal treatment, for example, in order to recover fractions for recycling or thermal recovery and to minimise the release of highly contaminated leachates and landfill gas when the non-recyclable fractions are disposed of in landfill. Incineration plants and mechanical-biological treatment plants are subject to strict environmental standards.

Delivery of waste to plants operated by the disposal industry and disposal by companies themselves: waste from municipal refuse collection – including by private contractors – from trade, commerce and industry and from private individuals is delivered to plants operated by the disposal industry. Waste from production is disposed of by industry in its own plants, but also in plants operated by the disposal industry.

In the period 1996-2006, a decline was noted in deliveries to public and companies’ own landfill. In 2007, because of the economic situation, the quantity of landfill increased in line with the increase in the delivered quantities. The landfilled quantities as a proportion of total deliveries fell from around 74 % to around 26 % between 1996 and 2007. In contrast, deliveries to incineration plants increased over the whole of that period. The biological treatment – composting and anaerobic digestion – has remained remarkably stable for many years. The increasing delivery of waste to other pre-treatment and recycling plants is particularly noticeable.

Landfill rates and principal waste streams: in terms of the information contained in the waste balance sheet, which covers all of the generated waste and its recycling or disposal, landfilling of waste fell from around 34 % in 1997 to around 20 % in 2007 of gross generated waste. The landfilling of rock material from mining is included in these figures. This waste group represents a considerable volume and is sent to landfill in its entirety. If the rock material is omitted from the calculations, the result is a significantly lower landfill rate. Whereas in 1997 22.5 % of generated waste was sent for landfill, the figure had dropped to 10.5 % by 2007.

Landfilling of non pre-treated municipal waste has been prohibited since 1 June 2005, leading to a drastic reduction in the quantity of landfill. Accordingly, between 1997 and 2007, the landfill rate for municipal waste fell from 38.8 % to a minimal residue of only 0.6 %, meeting the conditions without treatment. Nevertheless, non-recyclable treatment residues are still being disposed of to landfill although this should largely have ceased by 2020.

The key drivers and pressures

Published: 26 Nov 2010 Modified: 13 Apr 2011 Feed synced: 23 Nov 2010 original


Waste intensity

Generated waste fell between 2000 and 2005 as economic performance improved, reflecting a considerable decrease in the waste intensity of the German economy. The net generated quantity of waste increased again in 2006 and 2007. Waste intensity stagnated accordingly and even increased slightly in 2007. This is mainly attributable to the increase in the quantity of building and demolition waste generated.

Existing and planned responses

Waste Waste
more info
German Federal Environment Agency
Organisation name
German Federal Environment Agency
Reporting country
Organisation website
Organisation website
Contact link
Contact link
Last updated
23 Nov 2010
Content license
CC By 2.5
Content provider
German Federal Environment Agency
Published: 26 Nov 2010 Modified: 13 Apr 2011 Feed synced: 23 Nov 2010 original

In the context of a sustainable policy for the conservation of natural resources, considerable importance is attached to the creation of closed material cycles. The principles of such a recycling-based economy are set out in the Waste Recycling and Management Act (Kreislaufwirtschafts- und Abfallgesetz). Priority is given to the utilisation of materials extracted from nature to the highest possible degree in order to avoid the generation of waste at source. Unavoidable waste should be reused in industrial production or processed in such a way that it can be sent to ecologically safe landfill as inert slag. To achieve this, the waste must be subjected to mechanical-biological or thermal treatment before final disposal to minimise the release of leachates and gas from landfill sites. The disposal of municipal waste in landfill should largely have ceased by 2020, and avoidance, pre-treatment and recycling to the greatest possible extent used in its place. This will require the formulation of action targets and the development or further development of technologies to enable the targets to be met. Incineration plants are subject to strict air pollution control standards.

Finally, waste management must be distanced from the end-of-pipe mentality associated with the cheapest possible disposal of the refuse from an affluent society and, instead, be developed into a source of raw materials used in the production of goods.

Thermal waste treatment plants

Thermal treatment plants for residual municipal waste:

Sixty-nine municipal waste incineration plants and one pyrolysis plant for the thermal treatment of residual municipal waste with an approximate theoretical total annual capacity of 18 870 000 tonnes were in service in Germany at the start of 2010. All have an associated energy use generating electric power, process steam and/or district heating. The overall level of average utilisation is in the order of 50% for all the plants.

Power plants using alternative fuels:

In addition to traditional waste incineration plants, Germany currently also has 32 power plants using alternative fuels in service or in the final stages of construction or commissioning. For thermal waste treatment plants which mainly use such fuels, the theoretical total annual capacity amounts to 5 350 000 tonnes of alternative fuels obtained from waste (reporting year end 2010). These power plants are connected as a rule to other industrial plants, supplying them with process heat or electric power. (Source: Federal Environment Agency (UBA) from data records in the public domain, status 01/2010).

Thermal sewage sludge disposal:

Around 2.1 million tonnes of sewage sludge left from the biological treatment of waste water in municipal purification plants were disposed of in 2008 (Federal Statistical Office, Destatis 2010). Compared with the previous year, the amount has fallen by 0.1 %. The proportion of sewage sludge used in agriculture is continuing to decrease and now accounts for less than 30 % of municipal sewage sludge.




Sewage sludge disposed in total

2 048 507

2 055 906

2 054 102

Recycling in agriculture

611 598

(29,9 %)

592 561

(28,8 %)

587 832

(28,6 %)

Table 1. Development of sewage sludge disposed and agricultural recycling

The remaining sewage sludge is usually incinerated in dedicated sewage sludge incineration plants or in waste incineration plants after dehydration or drying, or is co-incinerated in power stations and cement works as a secondary fuel. The disposal of untreated sewage sludge has not been permitted since 1 June 2005. With regard to the dry matter present in sewage sludge, 52.5 % of the sewage sludge obtained in the course of biological wastewater treatment in municipal wastewater treatment plants was disposed of in incineration plants in 2008 (2007 was 49.4 %). The increase in the quantity of sewage sludge incineration led to a reduction in recycling (2008: 47.4 %).

The agricultural recycling of sewage sludge has given rise to concerns of representatives of the specialist authorities in a number of federal states and, to some extent, environmental protection agencies and the agricultural sector. It is thus very likely that the requirements in respect of the quality of the sewage sludge that is authorised for agricultural recycling will increase in future, so that a smaller proportion will be suitable for recycling in agriculture and a larger proportion will have to be thermally treated by pyrolysis, incineration or gasification.

Plants for the mechanical-biological treatment of residual waste (MBAs):

The requirements in respect of the quality of the waste for disposal in landfill can only be met, according to the current state of technology for residual municipal waste, by means of thermal or mechanical-biological pre-treatment. According to the provisions of the Regulation governing plants for the biological treatment of waste (30. BImSchV), the Regulation governing the disposal of waste in landfill (Abfallablagerungsverordnung) and Appendix 23 to the Regulation on wastewater (Abwasserverordnung), mechanical-biological waste treatment is only permissible in MBAs which meet very strict requirements in respect of exhaust air capture and treatment. Forty-five plants have undergone extensive conversion or construction from new since 2005.

According to the environmental research plan project, Plants for mechanical-biological residual waste treatment (April 2007), about 4.4 million tonnes of residual waste are subjected to treatment in MBAs, biological residual waste treatment plants (BAs) or plants for mechanical-biological stabilisation MBS each year. In addition, 2.3 million tonnes of residual waste are processed in purely mechanical plants (MAs) and 0.5 million tonnes of residual waste are processed in mechanically and physically operated plants with thermal drying facilities (MPAs). In all the 78 cold processes plants’ capacity is more than 7.2 million tonnes.

The ‘dual system’

On the basis of the German Packaging Regulation (VerpackV), dual systems (Duale Systeme) provide for the nationwide collection of packaging waste originating from private end users, which is then sent for recycling. On the whole, the recycling rates stipulated by the regulation, annual compliance with which must be backed by evidence, have always been met or exceeded.

According to the Packaging Regulation, as amended in 2008, those who first introduce retail packaging containing a product must join a dual system. This takes over disposal on their behalf and provides the necessary evidence of meeting the quota. Enterprises that fill catering packs – bakers, butchers, etc. – can require the suppliers or manufacturers of the catering packs to arrange for them to be licensed. In addition, those who first bring a product onto the market must, beyond a specific quantity threshold (glass: 80 tonnes; paper, board, cardboard: 50 tonnes; light-weight packaging 30 tonnes), submit declarations of completeness to the relevant chambers of industry and commerce by 1 May each year in respect of all the packaging used by them in the previous calendar year. For quantities below those thresholds, only a declaration of completeness is required at the request of the authorities.

Climate-friendly waste management

The disposal routes for municipal waste have changed dramatically since 1990. Reusable materials are increasingly collected separately and recycled. Well over half household waste – mainly paper, glass, packaging and organic waste – is now sent for recycling. This means greater conservation of raw materials and a reduced use of energy, avoiding CO2 emissions.

The efficient use of the remaining residual quantities of waste for energy production also contributed to climate protection, as it replaces fossil fuels.

However, the greatest contribution to the reduction of GHG emissions in the waste sector is achieved by the measures for reducing the methane released from landfill sites. Improved recovery and the use of landfill gases for energy production, but above all the landfill ban on non pre-treated municipal waste that has been in force since June 2005, result in significantly declining GHG emissions.

The National Inventory Report (NIR) on the German Greenhouse Gas Inventory (‘Nationaler Inventarbericht zum Deutschen Treibhausgasinventar 1990–2007 (NIR)’) (UBA, 2009) credits waste management with 27 million tonnes of CO2 equivalent reduction in emissions for the period 1990 to 2007 because of the reduction in the quantities of waste deposited in landfill and the recovery and the use of the landfill methane gas for energy production. The Federal Environment Agency is forecasting a further saving of approximately 4 million tonnes of CO2 equivalent in the landfill sector by 2012 because the generation of landfill gas from older sites is tailing off and because the dumping of waste with significant methane generation has not been permissible since June 2005. Compared with 1990, this will represent a decrease in methane emissions from landfill of around 90 % by 2012.

However, the balance sheet of the NIR for the waste sector records only the methane emissions from dumping in landfill that have been prevented. No credits are given for the end-user energy obtained from the use of waste. These benefit the energy industry, for instance, in terms of the balance sheet limits and the statistical categorisation of other sectors.

A 2010 study by the Federal Environment Agency assessed the performance of municipal waste management, including waste wood, in reducing emissions by a total of 56 million tonnes of CO2 equivalent between 1990 and 2006. A potential reduction of a further 10 million tonnes of CO2 equivalent by 2020 has also been identified.


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