German government, states, in waste fight

Merkel urges states to incinerate municipal waste instead of using "mechanical-biological" treatment

Germany's state authorities are wasting taxpayers' money and putting federal environmental goals for municipal waste management at risk, German environment minister Angela Merkel has said.

Federal and state administrations are in dispute over the implementation of the TASi, a 1993 set of technical guidelines for the management of municipal waste - waste from households, small businesses and commerce. The two key issues are current waste disposal costs and a legally binding target of reducing the biodegradable fraction of municipal waste going to landfill to 5% by 2005.

According to Ms Merkel, some states are underusing existing waste incinerators, so increasing the cost of waste disposal per tonne. Waste charges are ten times higher in some states than in others, the ministry says. Rather than following the spirit of the guidelines, some states are "carrying out costly experiments at the taxpayers' expense," she says.

"This 'small state mentality' must come to an end," Ms Merkel urges. "Cities and districts have to learn to work together and to offer cost effective solutions to the people."

The "costly experiments" referred to by the minister are so-called "mechanical-biological" waste treatment plants which are used by some states to pre-treat waste before landfilling. There are currently 14 such plants in Germany, treating about 860,000 tonnes of municipal waste. "Whoever is still building expensive mechanical-biological refuse treatment plants instead of making full use of existing incineration plants is guilty of adding to local authorities' avalanche of charges," Ms Merkel says.

States such as Brandenburg which are targeted by Ms Merkel appear adamant that their way is right, however. According to the states, the federal ministry is overlooking the very large capital costs associated with new waste incineration plant. Mechanical-biological treatment plants are much cheaper to build and deliver stabilised waste residues to landfills, they say. The environment ministry confirms that up to 40 new incinerators will be needed by 2005 if the biodegradable waste limit is to be achieved.

The states acknowledge that mechanical-biological treatment cannot meet the 2005 target of limiting the biodegradable fraction of waste to 5%. The plants achieve 15-30%, they say.

However, they question the target, describing the TASi as unnecessarily ambitious. "There is a feeling that the TASi has gone too far," a specialist in mechanical-biological treatment told ENDS Daily. Some states are looking for a change of government in this autumn's national elections, which they suggest would result in the target being revised so that mechanical-biological treatment plants could be used in the longer term.

Follow Up:
German environment ministry, tel: +49 228 3050.

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