Germany plans to end domestic waste dumping

Ministry proposes 2020 landfill phase-out, gives green light to mechanical-biological treatment

All landfilling of German household waste should be phased out by 2020, according to a strategy unveiled by the country's environment ministry on Friday, which calls for treatment techniques to be developed so that all domestic wastes can be recovered "fully and environment-compatibly" within two decades. Currently, some 60% of the 30m tonnes of domestic waste arising annually in Germany is landfilled.

In five "cornerstones" for a new domestic waste policy, the ministry suggests ending the landfilling of all untreated wastes as soon as possible by creating more pre-treatment capacity. Based on an "ecological justification" by the German environment agency, it also says that a form of composting, known as mechanical-biological treatment (MBT) should be permitted as a pre-treatment technique even after tough new landfill pre-treatment rules come into force in 2005.

Seen by some German states as a preferable alternative to incineration of waste, MBT was discouraged by the previous government (ENDS Daily 18 May 1998). Earlier this year, the current environment minister, Jürgen Trittin, promised to review this policy (ENDS Daily 31 May).

The debate over MBT revolves around the 1993 domestic waste technical guideline, or TASi. This sets a 2005 legal deadline for all waste going to landfill to be pre-treated, from which time the organic fraction of waste being dumped must be no more than 5%. It is generally recognised that MBT cannot achieve this degree of reduction in organic content.

The environment ministry now says that the TASi, as well as the federal air quality law, should be amended to enable MBT to continue to be used after 2005. In a statement, the ministry adds that its new strategy should help to end "past conflicts between supporters and opponents of waste incineration".

Other cornerstones in the domestic waste strategy include an aim for all high calorific value material coming out of MBT plants to be incinerated with energy recovery. It also suggests that no new landfill sites should now need to be built in Germany, since implementation of appropriate pre-treatment technologies will ensure that existing capacity will last another two decades. Landfill sites that cannot be updated economically should be closed, it says.

Details of the strategy must now be hammered out with municipalities, state and federal departments, the coalition parties and environmental and business associations. Next month the environment ministry will also hold a hearing for stakeholders to discuss the technical requirements of new MBT plants as well as options for storing part of the resulting residues.

Follow Up:
German environment ministry, tel: +49 228 3050; German environment agency, tel: +49 30 890 30. References: "Ecological Justification" of Mechanical-Biological Pre-treatment of Waste Residues Including Storage."

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