IFAT Industry Insights

Sustainable restart necessary

Many companies in the recycling and waste management industry are currently suffering from the coronavirus crisis’ economic consequences. The current report of the German Advisory Council on the Environment (SRU) "Towards an ambitious environmental policy in Germany and Europe" contains solutions for an economic and sustainable restart for the industry.

At the beginning of May, the alarm bells rang for the industry associations of the recycling and waste management industry. BDE President Peter Kurth: “Almost all companies in our industry are affected by the effects of the coronavirus crisis—just as the economy as a whole." Kurth's statement was based on a recent survey among the member companies of the Federal Association of the German Waste, Water and Raw Materials Management Industry (BDE) which showed that almost three quarters of the companies organized in the BDE had to postpone or cancel necessary investments due to the coronavirus pandemic. The Federal Association for Secondary Raw Materials and Waste Management (bvse) came to a similar conclusion. Its Managing Director Eric Rehbock stated: "The coronavirus crisis has done enormous damage to the recycling and waste management industry. Quite a few companies fight for their existence.”

circular economy
© Shutterstocjk / laymanzoom

It almost seems like a small ray of hope that the German Advisory Council on the Environment (SRU), in its report presented in mid-May, “supports the now necessary sustainable restart of the economy with good arguments”, as stated by Federal Environment Minister Svenja Schulze. According to the SRU, Germany is far from realizing the potential of the recycling industry. Although the step from a landfill-based waste management to a circular economy-oriented waste management has been achieved so far, the evolution into a circular economy has not yet been successful, as claimed in the subsection “Circular economy: from rhetoric to practice" of the 556-page report.

Opportunity for the circular economy

The report also states that the amount of waste produced was still high, and only around 16 percent of the raw materials required were covered by secondary raw materials. BDE boss Kurth: “I welcome this report as an important contribution to the discussion at a time when many important issues are being pushed into the background by the coronavirus crisis.” The Managing Director of the bvse Rehbock thinks: "We are still a long way from a functioning circular economy. But the good news is that we have a realistic chance to implement it in Germany and Europe.” Sven Weihe, Press Officer for PlasticsEurope Deutschland, emphasized:

“The report's proposals and objectives in the areas of climate policy, circular economy and water protection get to the heart of the matter.” PlasticsEurope represents over one hundred member companies and is supposed to serve as a pan-European association of the most important plastics producers in Europe. “It remains necessary both to reduce the demand for raw materials and to recycle substances and materials such as plastics in larger quantities and with higher quality and to return them to the production cycle as secondary raw materials," added Weihe. This assessment is in line with the statements of the SRU scientists.


Focus on products

One of the strengths of the SRU report is that it does not stop at a critical review of the situation, but rather points out clear paths for the sustainable development that will be necessary in the future. Central term in this context: products shall become compatible with the circular economy. This means that they must basically be durable, free of pollutants, material efficient, repairable and recyclable.

A further proposal of the expert panel is to add "product stages" to the existing waste hierarchy to pursue the following objectives:

  • Reduce the input of raw materials for products, infrastructure and services,
  • define binding targets for waste prevention and preparation for re-use,
  • rate recycling not only on the basis of quantity, but also in terms of its quality.

Furthermore, the SRU recommends establishing a national raw materials inventory, on the basis of which it would be possible to identify those material flows that most urgently need to be reduced from an environmental perspective.


IFAT Environmental Index supports the demands of the environmental industry

The IFAT Environmental Index 2020, published at the beginning of May, contains comparable proposals. Here, the respondents favor three measures to promote the circular economy: 77 percent want to make recycling capability mandatory already when the product is approved. 75 percent additionally focus on better waste separation and collection. And 68 percent advocate that product design already plans with recycled and recyclable materials. A result that the Managing Director of Messe München, Stefan Rummel, summarized as follows: “Circular economy is a promising issue, as it reduces greenhouse gases through the sustainable use of raw materials.”


Circular Economy Act currently undergoing amendment

Many of the above-mentioned objectives are also being pursued with the current amendment to the German Circular Economy Act (KrWG). The federal government thus transposes the EU Waste Framework Directive into German law and modernizes the existing waste legislation. The new law provides for three key measures:

  • In their procurement practices, public authorities shall give priority to recycled products.
  • The newly introduced "duty of care" gives the state the legitimacy to take action against the destruction of new goods or returns.
  • In the future, distributors of disposable products are to contribute to the cleaning costs of parks and streets.

The previous drafts of the act met with different responses from associations and municipalities. The amendment is currently still in the parliamentary voting procedure. There have been delays as a result of the coronavirus crisis, a spokesman for the Federal Ministry for the Environment (BMU) explained on request. This suggests that the draft act will not be adopted until the third quarter of 2020.

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