At the highest international level: A top performance from the waste and waste-water industry


Source: Koelnmesse

The task of dealing with waste is changing rapidly, with the focus moving away from simple disposal and towards exploiting all recoverable substances. Europe, and Germany in particular, has taken on a leading role in this regard. This is demonstrated firstly by the high levels of expenditure on environmental protection, and secondly by the wealth of highly innovative technological developments. Increasingly, high-tech systems that go beyond a purely biological basis are making inroads in the municipal and commercial treatment of waste water. The forthcoming Entsorga-Enteco — International Trade Fair for Waste Management and Environmental Technology (Cologne, 24th to 27th October 2006) will offer an excellent insight into the latest technological developments for protecting the environment.

In total, the 25 countries of the European Union spend over €155 billion on environmental protection each year. Almost half of this sum (over €75 billion) is accounted for by specialised service providers, primarily from the waste-disposal and waste-water industry. Governmental institutions account for around €50 billion, and the industrial sector contributes just under €30 billion. Taken together, this corresponds to some 1.7 per cent of the EU’s gross domestic product. These figures are taken from statistical surveys of the EU for 2002.

Statistics also reveal that public investments made in the 15 “old” member states of the EU have fallen by more than 40 per cent since the mid-1990s. However, ongoing expenditure on environmental protection in these countries has risen by about 20 per cent over the same period, accounting for roughly three-quarters of total expenditure in 2002. Private service providers’ investments and ongoing expenditure levels have remained relatively constant in recent years.

The situation is different in the ten new EU member states, however, where public investment levels have increased significantly since 1995. Topping the list is Hungary, where investments have risen by 300 per cent. This is unsurprising given that the new EU countries need to invest between €50 billion and €80 billion altogether if they want their environmental protection standards to meet EU-wide requirements (according to an estimate by the European Commission). Complying with the specifications concerning municipal waste-water disposal alone will cost €15 billion.

About two-thirds of all environmental protection expenditure in the enlarged EU is accounted for by general activities such as research, preserving biodiversity, and protecting soil and groundwater. This is followed by waste disposal, which accounts for 27 per cent. Water purification made up only eight per cent of environmental protection expenditure in 2002, down almost 15 percentage points from two years previously. This shows that progress has been made in terms of compliance with EU regulations, at least in the “old” member states. Accounting for just two per cent of expenditure, exhaust air purification measures play a relatively insignificant role.

Private service providers on the up

Expenditure on environmental protection totalled around €34 billion in Germany in 2002. Almost exactly half was spent by privatised public companies. The public sector accounted for nearly €10 billion, and the industrial sector for approximately €7 billion. These figures were released by the Federal Statistical Office and apply to 2005.

According to the figures available, Germany’s expenditure on environmental protection has remained virtually constant since 1994. Considerable fluctuation has been apparent in the case of financial backers, however. While expenditure by the government and the manufacturing industry has fallen by 36 and 19 per cent respectively since 1994, privatised public waste disposal companies are now spending 69 per cent more than they did in that year (up by €7 billion). According to the Federal Statistical Office, this is primarily due to the shift away from state-run operations towards privately run companies. Taken together, the state and the disposal organisers have increased their expenditure by €1.8 billion since 1994.

Both sides spend virtually an equal amount of money (around 90 per cent) on water pollution control and waste disposal.

Around 366 million tons of waste are produced in Germany each year, of which two-thirds is recycled (mainly materially). If we subtract from this total the 223 million tons of construction and demolition waste and 47 million tons each of mining material and industrial waste, the remaining amount of household waste stands at almost 50 million tons. Of this amount, nearly 60 per cent is recycled today.

By way of comparison, the overall amount of waste throughout the EU is estimated at around 1.3 billion tons, with household waste accounting for almost 200 million tons. On average, the proportion of recycled waste only just exceeds 20 per cent.

Since the early 1990s, Germany has been more active than most other countries in Europe and the rest of the world in promoting the recycling of recoverable material from waste. One example here is the foundation of Duale System Deutschland AG, a private initiative that was originally established as a non-profit-making company. It took over the organisation of separating, sorting and recycling packaging material that was disposed of by households. This was important in view of the need to meet stringent quotas specified in the packaging directive concerning the recycling of paper, cardboard, paperboard, glass, plastics, tin, aluminium and composite materials, for example.

The German government approved the technical directive on household waste (TASi) at around the same time. This directive became more concrete in the form of the waste storage regulations of 2001, which stated that it would be prohibited to dispose of untreated household waste in landfill sites as of mid-2005.

From the waste disposal industry to the raw materials industry

The results of this waste disposal policy have set benchmarks. Today, more than 80 per cent of packaging waste is being recycled. The percentage of glass containers that are being recycled is over 90 per cent. At the bottom of the list are plastic packaging materials, only 55 per cent of which are recycled. What’s more, the separate collection of organic waste has almost quadrupled since 1993, and now amounts to more than eight million tons annually. About half of this organic waste is processed in more than 1,000 compost and fermentation residue plants and used as fertilizer, primarily in agriculture, landscaping and private gardening. And more than three quarters of the approximately 13,000 tons of batteries collected in Germany annually are recycled.

Since June 2005, no household waste has been dumped in landfills without being previously processed. To make this possible, the German waste disposal industry invested some €20 billion to create thermal and mechanical -biological processing plants with the necessary capacity, as well the appropriate logistics concepts.

The German waste disposal industry, which comprises more than 4,000 companies, has an annual turnover of approximately €37 billion. The public waste disposal sector alone accounts for more than €16 billion of this total. More than €13 billion in turnover is posted by private waste disposal companies.

In spite of the successful implementation of the packaging ordinance and TASi, the sector as a whole will be facing a number of challenges in the coming years. The first of these challenges will be the establishment of a smoothly functioning system for returning and recycling electrical and electronic scrap materials in compliance with the relevant EU guidelines.

Then too, a mandatory deposit for non-returnable drink containers will be introduced in Germany in May 2006. Here too, the challenge is to establish new return systems and make it easier to recycle such containers. Last but not least, the recycling market for packaging is currently experiencing a period of massive transformation. The non-profit organization DSD AG was restructured to become a private company at the beginning of 2005, on the urgent advice of the top cartel authorities in Brussels and Berlin. As a result, several dual systems are now competing for the recycling market for packaging materials.

As we can see, there’s a lot going on in the German waste disposal industry. It’s taking giant steps to transform itself from a sector that simply disposes of waste materials — even though this is done in an environmentally friendly manner — to an industry that processes raw materials. So it’s no wonder that this process is also having an impact on the sector itself. In order to cope with the fundamental structural changes that are taking place today, the sector is consolidating, according to the Federal Association of the German Waste Disposal Industry (BDE). Remondis (previously Rethmann) and Sulo are gradually emerging as two major German waste disposal companies that are among the world’s ten largest companies in this sector. Other major German waste disposal companies include Sita Deutschland, Schönmackers, Fehr, Alba, Nehlsen, U-Plus and Tönsmeier.

Full compliance with EU regulations for wastewater

The German wastewater industry has also done its homework in recent years. Around 95 per cent of the German population is connected to the public sewage systems. The collected wastewater is purified almost entirely in biological sewage treatment plants, and 95 per cent of the wastewater is treated in facilities that also have a purification level for nutrient elimination. As a result, the specifications of the EU municipal wastewater directive are already being fulfilled today.

However, another challenge still remains — one that should not be underestimated. It can be found under the earth’s surface. According to the German Association for Water, Wastewater and Waste (DWA, Hennef), around 20 per cent of the public sewage network is in need of repair and renovation in the short or medium term. The necessary investment may amount to as much as €55 billion. Today, approximately €1.6 billion is being invested annually in sewer system renovation. However, the DWA estimates that at least twice that amount must be spent in order to prevent the creeping deterioration of these fixed assets under the earth’s surface.

Most of the more than 10,000 sewage treatment plants and sewage systems are operated under public law, unlike enterprises in the waste disposal industry. These include plants operated by municipalities (43 per cent), state-controlled enterprises (20 per cent), administrative agencies (17 per cent) or special-purpose or water associations (13 per cent). The remaining eight per cent are operated by private companies. That percentage has been increasing in recent years. In view of continually shrinking municipal budgets, it is only logical that increasing use is being made of the know-how and capital of the private sector.

World’s top exporter of environmental technologies

Germany’s achievements in the field of waste disposal and wastewater treatment are world-class. Plants and equipment for environmental protection that are made in Germany also enjoy an excellent reputation around the globe. That’s demonstrated by statistics collected by the Federal Environmental Agency (UBA, Dessau), which indicate that in 2003 Germany exported US$35 billion (just under €30 billion) worth of goods that could potentially be used for environmental protection. German companies account for almost 19 per cent of the world market in this sector.

But that’s not all: For the first time in a decade, German companies once again occupy the top position in the sector, a nose length ahead of the U.S. competition. Third place is still occupied by Japan, which lags behind by nine per cent.

The most popular exports are measuring, controlling and monitoring devices, reaching a total value of almost US$15 billion (€13 billion), followed by systems for the water and waste-water industry (US$13 billion or €11 billion). According to the UBA, the majority of inventions in environmental protection technology originate in Germany. Germany accounts for 23 per cent of all environmental protection patent applications submitted to the European Patent Office, followed by the USA (22 per cent) and Japan (19 per cent). That’s yet another reason to visit Entsorga-Enteco 2006 in Cologne from 24th to 27th October — the perfect platform for trade visitors from around the world to view and order innovative products and services offered by the participating sectors.

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