Waste prevention, recycling and disposal

Waste disposal is regulated in the German Circular Economy Act (Kreislaufwirtschaftsgesetz). The aim of this law is to conserve resources and protect people and the environment, whereby the basic idea is the avoidance of waste. If waste is deemed unavoidable, it should be recycled wherever possible. Only waste that cannot be avoided or recycled is to be disposed of. This means that waste prevention is statutorily anchored in law, but it is also clear that waste disposal cannot be completely eliminated.

Structural need for landfills

Landfills are an essential part of a functioning infrastructure. Despite relevant recycling rates, waste remains that has to be disposed of in landfills in order to remove it from the material life cycle. It is the task of a landfill site to ensure the safe disposal of this waste. The basis for this are numerous legal regulations which, on German and European initiative, guarantee safe and thus environmentally compatible landfill operation.

German legal framework

The Landfill Directive defines the rules for construction, operation, closure and aftercare of landfills. It applies to carriers and operators or owners of landfills and long-term storage facilities, producers and owners of waste and operators of facilities for the production of secondary landfill construction materials. The regulation is updated regularly. In addition, there are a large number of other regulations and laws that must be observed.

Examples are:

  • Kreislaufwirtschaftsgesetz (KrWG)
  • Abfallrahmenrichtlinie
  • LAGA PN98
  • IED-Richtlinie
  • Wasserhaushaltsgesetz (WHG)
  • Bundesbodenschutzgesetz (BBodSchG)
  • Bundesbodenschutzverordnung (BBodSchV)

Municipal waste turns into mineral waste

Since 2005, municipal waste/household waste may no longer be disposed of without treatment. This specification serves the purpose of reducing the organic content of waste. This was, among other things, the cause of methane gas formation in landfills and had further negative effects, e.g. on odour formation or leachate pollution. In 2009, the Landfill Directive specified the requirements for landfills – thus demanding and promoting increased landfill safety.

Municipal waste is treated before landfilling

Treatment before disposal has been a legal requirement for municipal waste since 2005 

Whereas municipal waste used to be deposited directly in landfills, nowadays it must be sent to waste management companies for further treatment. In Germany, the majority of municipal waste is fed into thermal treatment facilities, i.e. waste incineration plants/energy-from-waste plants. In addition to reducing the volume of waste while generating energy, this means that, after appropriate additional treatment of the remaining incinerator bottom ash, only mineral waste remains which, if it cannot be reused in appropriate construction measures, is deposited as non-hazardous waste in class I landfills.