Waste - National Responses (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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23 Nov 2010
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German Federal Environment Agency
Published: 26 Nov 2010 Modified: 21 Mar 2015 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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