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Sustainable Waste Management in Germany. Dr. Helmut L. Schnurer Until 2005 Deputy Director General for Waste Management and Soil Protection at the Federal Ministry for the Environment Bonn, Germany

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sustainable waste management in germany

Sustainable Waste Management in Germany

Dr. Helmut L. Schnurer

Until 2005 Deputy Director General

for Waste Management and Soil Protection

at the

Federal Ministry for the Environment

Bonn, Germany

(with some contributions of Michael Weltzin, Member of the Green Party at the German Parliament, Berlin)

Dr. Helmut Schnurer

situation up to 1980 in germany and most of europe
increasing amounts

of waste

no public acceptance

for new landfills

increasing costs

exports to distant

regions created

political problems



wasting of resources

Situation up to 1980 in Germany and most of Europe


of waste

was not a



Dr. Helmut Schnurer

why did we abandon land filling as an option
In order to protect the environment we would need a sophisticated lining system with a long term reliability

Long term reliability does not exist

The leachate control is not perfect

The collection and control of landfill gas is not efficient

Landfills are harmful to groundwater and climate

High-tech landfills are more expensive than many recycling techniques or waste incineration

Landfills neglect the large potential of waste for resource and energy recovery –

and their negative effect on climate protection

Landfills are not sustainable

Why did we abandon land filling as an option?

Dr. Helmut Schnurer


Position of the Green Party in Germany:

Landfillig as a shift of the problems

  • Landfill sites are black boxes, with unknown biological and chemical processes.
  • They need intensive care for generations, leaching water has to be treated for years.
  • Permanent danger of leaks, with heavy consequences for groundwater and soil. Such problems are usually more or less not reparable.
  • Methane emission from landfillingis responsible for a significant part of the global warming problem.

Dr. Helmut Schnurer

what was the consequence
Reduce MSW by increasing separate collection of recyclable waste

Packaging (glass, metal, paper and board, plastic)

Bio waste

Waste paper (newspaper etc.)

Textiles, shoes

Bulky waste

Electric equipment, batteries


Motivate people to join separate collection

Use of economic instruments (landfill tax)

However: zero waste is not possible!

our realistic goal  zero waste to landfill 

What was the consequence?

Dr. Helmut Schnurer

main principles objectves of german and european waste policy
Priority for avoidance, material recycling andenergy recovery of waste

Implementation of extended producer responsibility for products

Stop landfilling of bio-degradable waste

Mandatory pre-treatment of solid wastes

Contribute to climate protection

MAIN PRINCIPLES / OBJECTVESof German (and European) Waste Policy

Dr. Helmut Schnurer

germany s approach to resource recovery
Germany’s Approach to Resource Recovery

Light weight packaging

Dr. Helmut Schnurer

steps of development
Restrictions for landfilling: All MSW has to be pre-treated since 1993 (deadline was June 2005)

Regulations do not define the way – but the results:

Specifications for pre-treated waste

Stringent requirements to reduce and avoid emissions into air and water

Steps of Development

Dr. Helmut Schnurer

specifications for msw which may be landfilled
Very low contents of organic substances (TOC < 3%)

Limitation of leachate concentration for a larger number of hazardous substances (a.o. heavy metals)

MSW does not cope with these requirements, but must be pre-treated

Requirements can be fulfilled by thermal treatment of MSW

Residues from thermal treatment can be recycled, only small amounts have to be disposed of as hazardous waste (underground storage)

Specifications for MSW (which may be landfilled)

Dr. Helmut Schnurer

new emission standards later the eu waste incineration directive
Stringent emission limits have been decided (17. Ordinance to the Air Pollution Control Law)

New boundary value: 0.1 ng/m3 TEQ for dioxins and furans in the off gas

Taking into account the state of science and technology

Consequences are sophisticated flue gas cleaning systems at MSWI (including active carbon filter police filter)

Current emissions fall significantly below the legal limit values

Significant increase in public acceptance of MSWI

New emission standards (later the EU Waste Incineration Directive)

Dr. Helmut Schnurer

advantages of w2e 1
Waste incineration has developed over the past 100 years, is a mature technology with high availability

Waste incineration can be used for very different waste streams (also for bulky waste, sewage sludge etc.)

Grate firing can be seen as an „omnivore“

Other thermal treatment processes are only used in sometimes for special wastes (e.g. homogenious waste like sludges in fluidized bed incinerators, tyres in cement kilns)

Advantages of W2E (1)

Dr. Helmut Schnurer

advantages of w2e 2
Emission standards are much more stringent compared to other industrial facilities like fossil fired power stations (German standard  EU-Waste Incineration Directive)

Actual emissions from W2E-facikities are significantly lower than the very low legal limit values (for dioxins/furanes lower by a factor 1000!

W2E can achieve almost 100% recovery rate (electric and thermal power, construction materials, metals, acid); only 1-3% in weight are waste for disposal (fly ash, filter residues)

As a consequence: The negative image of waste incineration from the 1970s and 1980s was changed in Germany into broad public acceptance (even by the Green Party!)

Main reasons: transparency, public information about low emission levels – online via internet, and evidence of how poorly many landfills were performing

Advantages of W2E (2)

Dr. Helmut Schnurer


Requirements for Incineration Technology

Example: MVR – Hamburg as BAT, Best Available Technology

  • Very (!) low emissions,
  • high efficiency in recovering of heat and electricity,
  • use of different by-products by producing acid and gypsum
  • use of ashes e.g. in the construction industry
  • no landfilling, only small amount of the input has to be deposited in underground landfills (salt mines)

Dr. Helmut Schnurer

example: MVR-Hamburg

consequences from new waste policy
MSW must be pre-treated instead of landfilling (deadline was June 2005)

Pretreatment may be

Thermal treatment, producing

electrical and/or thermal energy

bottom ash for construction purposes

fly ash for disposal

other secondary rawmaterials (metal, gypsum…)

Mechanical-biological treatment, producing

Inert waste for landfilling

High calorific waste for energy recovery

Other secondary raw materials (metals)

Both alternatives have to cope with very stringent emission limits

Consequences from new Waste Policy

Dr. Helmut Schnurer

results in germany
Public and private operators

rely mainly on proven technology: Municipal Solid Waste Incineration (MSWI, mainly grate, a few fluidized bed )

73 MSWI facilities are operating presently

Total capacity of 17.9 million tonnes per year (65%)

others use Mechanical-Biological-Treatment (MBT)

66 facilities with 7.2 million tonnes per year  (26%)

(many are faced with severe technical as well as economical problems)

RDF from MBT substitutes fossil fuels in coal fired power plants, cement kilns and special RDF power plants

presently 2.3 million tonnes per year (8%)

[Situation is similar in some other European countries,

like A, CH, DK, F, NL, S]

Results in Germany

Dr. Helmut Schnurer


Experiences with MBA as incineration alternative

Mechanical Biological Treatment:

  • separation of waste into recycling materials (metal, wood),
  • a solid fuel (paper, plastics)
  • and biological treatment of the organic residue for landfilling.

Campaigned by the Greens in the early 1980ies, but finally rejected: - many technical problems, - no market for poor quality solid fuel, - landfilling is still necessary

This technology is not reliable!

Explosion in MBA in Göttingen 2006

Dr. Helmut Schnurer

alternative waste techniques
During the last 20-30 years many so called „alternative technologies“ have been proposed as a „better alternative to proven technologies (like MSWI)“ in Germany and elsewhere:





Deep well injection

Mechanical biological treatment


Alternative Waste Techniques ?

Dr. Helmut Schnurer

most alternative technologies failed 1

Several small sized plants have been built

Only one small facility is still operating (technical problems, need to dispose of hazardous tar)


One facility built at Karlsruhe

Never reached specifications/continuous operation  shut down  loss of 400 mill €


Developed by experienced company (Siemens)

Pilot plant at Ulm worked well

First full scale facility started construction but was not finished due to technical problems and increasing costs substituted by W2E

Gasification at Schwarze Pumpe

Facility worked well with specific wastes

Operation terminated due to not competitive high operating costs

Most „alternative“ technologies failed (1)

Dr. Helmut Schnurer

alternative technologies failed 2
Plasma Technology

Only experiments and test rigs; no large facility for waste has been realized in Germany

Katalytic Depolimerisation

Small test rig promised to transfer waste into diesel

No large facility has proven to be available for mixed waste

Deep well injection

In theory an ideal solution for organic sludge

Technical realisation failed

MBT techniques (different kinds)

Problems to cope with emission standards

Problems with the quality of the high calorific fraction for being used as a secondary fuel  storage

Increased costs and poor availability

„alternative“ technologies failed (2)

Dr. Helmut Schnurer


Consequences of missing reliability and availability

Definitely the worst case for our environment!

  • examples: Napoli, Italy
  • and not operating MBT technology

Dr. Helmut Schnurer

source: WDR, German Television, DUH 2007

position of eu commissioner for the environment mr janez potoznik eu report from august 2012
In many of the 27 EU member states still too much waste is produced – instead of avoidance and recycling – and large amounts of waste go to landfills – which is the worst option, while much better alternatives are available.

Excellent solutions are existent in Austria, Belgium, Denmark, Germany and Sweden , where less than 5% of the waste is landfilled. Typical for these states is the effective combination of legal, administrative and economical instruments (for waste recycling, recovery and disposal).

Position of EU Commissioner for the Environment, Mr Janez Potoznik[EU Report from August 2012]

Dr. Helmut Schnurer


Treatment of MSW in the EU 27 in 2006


Recycling (Incl. Composting)



Dr. Helmut Schnurer

position of eu commissioner for the environment mr janez potoznik continued
A recent study from EU indicates, that in case of consequent implementation of EU waste legislation in all 27 member states

72 billion Euros could be saved per year,

The annual turnover of the waste management companies could be increased by 42 billion Euros,

until 2020, 400,000 new jobs could be created in EU.

 A similar large or even greater potential for the USA!

Waste Management contributes significantly to the reduction of emissions of green house gas (highest individual contribution compared to wind- or solar-power or biofuel)

Position of EU Commissioner for the Environment, Mr Janez Potoznik(continued)

Dr. Helmut Schnurer

how can we build a sustainability of waste management infrastructure
We use waste as a secondary raw material for production and for energy supply

With the exemption of MBT only very small amounts of materials go for final disposal (landfill)

Our waste management system does no longer create environmental burdens or hazards (agreed by Green Party)

We contribute to the protection of our world’s climate

Waste management does not create undue financial burdens to citizen or industry

Recycling and energy recovery of waste don’t create social conflicts, but are widely accepted by the public

Environmental, economical and social aspects are balanced  sustainability is close to reality

How can we build a sustainability of waste management infrastructure?

Dr. Helmut Schnurer




More information on and

and from my friend and collegue, Philipp Schmidt-Pathmann

Dr. Helmut Schnurer