Currently, private and public waste management companies roughly share the German waste collection market, which is mainly structured regionally and will remain so in the foreseeable future. Exemplary projects across Germany point the way to a resource-efficient future.
“In Germany, municipal enterprises are the central infrastructure service providers, being an essential driving force for economic, cultural and social stability and development in the regions. They ensure the functioning of society and the economy.” The German Association of Local Utilities (VKU) makes this confident statement in a two-page position paper, which further specifies that every day, VKU companies dispose of around 31,500 tons of waste in Germany and, with their entire range of services, generate more than € 115 billion per year.
However, not everywhere, the commitment of municipal actors is met with approval. In a press release published last summer, the German Waste, Water and Raw Materials Management Industry (BDE) criticizes the trend toward the state having increased shares in waste management and circular economy. No matter whether the organization will be more private or more public in the future, one thing is for sure: Germany’s disposal sector will continue to be strongly structured on a regional basis—numerous examples prove this.
In Grevenbroich in North Rhine-Westphalia, for example, a processing center for construction waste is to be built, with the aim to establish a construction industry incorporating a recycling concept in the Rhenish mining area. The plant with a mobile and stationary module, which has only been sketched out so far, will have a processing capacity of around 300,000 tons of construction waste and will primarily produce recycled aggregates for use in building construction.
Bauteilbörse Bremen (Building Components Exchange in Bremen) has been successfully active in the federal state of Bremen for quite a while, brokering used building components collected during demolition or reconstruction to private individuals, crafts businesses, demolition companies, construction companies, planning offices and authorities for reuse. This idea has meanwhile been able to take root in other German regions such as Berlin-Brandenburg, Hanover, Gronau and Herzogenrath in the form of Bauteilnetz Deutschland (Component Network Germany).
Munich wants to become a zero-waste city. For this, the “metropolis with heart” is advised by Dr. Henning Wilts from the Wuppertal Institute for Circular Economy. He knows:
The best waste is without doubt the one that was never generated, collected and treated. At the same time, waste prevention always requires the cooperation of different actors—reasonable waste prevention is a process that involves as many people as possible.
The regionally organized waste management industry also receives impetus from the Federal Government's Resource Efficiency Program, known as “ProgRess”. Having adopted this program in February 2012, Germany was one of the first countries to commit itself to goals, guiding principles and approaches for action to protect natural resources. The Federal Government is obliged to report to the German Bundestag on the development of resource efficiency in Germany and to update the program every four years. The next report (ProgRess III) is expected to be published in 2020.
In the course of this program, many research projects have been set up, specifically aimed at initiating resource-saving activities at regional and municipal level.
The “RegioRess” research project, for example, is supervised by the German Institute of Urban Affairs (Difu). In this context, Maic Verbücheln at Difu states in a study: “It is to be noted that the comprehensive implementation of the optimization of material cycles and flows to increase resource efficiency would be unthinkable without municipal actors.”
In even more concrete terms, the Difu project “kommRess” is concerned with finding relevant actors in municipal administration, municipal enterprises and civil society willing to participate in the concept of using energy and raw materials carefully. In addition, kommRess is designing a service point to support local governments, business development agencies and other regional actors in anchoring resource-efficient action in their daily business.
What could the future of regional waste management look like? In a specialist publication, the Federal Environment Agency (UBA) advocates so-called urban mining, meaning the targeted use and exploitation of previously fallow raw material deposits in abandoned buildings, plants and consumer goods, especially in urban areas. Properly implemented, it could give a major boost to the recycling industry, writes UBA—a vision of the future that could increasingly come within reach in times of the European Green Deal and many climate protection initiatives.