Peter Kurth talks himself into a rage. “Where was the Minister of Economics, please?” asks the President of the Federal Association of German Waste Management, Water and Recycling Management (BDE) and immediately adds the answer himself: “Not there.”
Robert Habeck (Greens) didn’t show up for a minute last week at the world’s largest environmental technology trade fair, IFAT in Munich. And his secretaries of state did not come by either. “No one understood that the head of the Federal Ministry of Economics was completely conspicuous by its absence,” complains Kurth, shaking his head. “The situation is clear: the music of tomorrow will be played at IFAT.”
By music of tomorrow, Kurth means the topic of the circular economy. “The transformation from linear to circular is the central task of politics,” says the industry representative. This is the only way to achieve climate protection, energy transition and a secure supply of raw materials.
“And the right solutions for this were presented at IFAT. We would also have liked to show them to the Federal Minister for Economic Affairs. Because this is clearly not just a topic for the environment department. There were therefore also a wide variety of attempts at invitations. Since Mr. Habeck and his state secretaries did not come, but instead went several times to the Hannover Messe industrial show that was taking place at the same time, we can only assume that the ministry simply does not recognize the importance of the topic.”
Current figures on recycling in Germany show how great the potential still is. Just twelve percent of the raw materials used in Germany come from a recycling process, according to a study by the Institute for Energy and Environmental Research (ifeu) on behalf of the German Nature Conservation Union (NABU).
“The study makes it clear that too many raw materials are mined and processed into goods that are then incinerated as waste or landfilled after use,” says NABU. The transformation towards circular economy is therefore overdue.
“The big lever to achieve climate goals”
“This is the big lever for achieving climate targets and at the same time maintaining Germany as a production location,” says BDE President Kurth. And even with the simplest of means, it is possible to double the previously sobering recycling rate. “But we need the support of politicians for this,” demands Kurth, who once worked as CDU Finance Senator in Berlin and gained experience in high-ranking politics himself. “A visit from Robert Habeck would have been an important signal.”
At least he can rely on the environment department. In any case, Federal Minister Steffi Lemke (Greens) was at IFAT and, in her opening speech, also emphasized the importance of a functioning recycling economy. “It saves primary resources, reduces dependencies and at the same time makes a significant contribution to climate protection and species protection.”
Studies show that almost half of all global greenhouse gas emissions and 90 percent of species extinction and water scarcity are due to the extraction and processing of resources. “In Germany, we can do even better at making better use of the opportunities offered by the circular economy,” admits Lemke.
“And this is where politics comes in. Because I am aware that legal requirements can create the impetus and the necessary level playing field to make environmental protection an interesting business model. Without smart regulation, the circular economy far too often does not even take place.”
“Establish your own higher authority”
The industry likes to hear such words – but wonders what weight Lemke has in the federal government. This is one of the reasons why the call for the traffic light colleague Habeck, who has been almost omnipresent since taking office, is so loud. “Circular economy is a cross-cutting issue. That’s why it’s important to develop a national strategy and to establish your own higher authority for this area,” says Herwart Wilms, Managing Director of the Remondis Group from Lünen in Westphalia, one of the largest waste disposal and recycling companies in the world.
The topic is far too important to be talked about and crushed between departments. “It’s about setting up a completely new product policy. In the future, we will need durable, reusable, recyclable and, if possible, repairable products,” Wilms demands in the WELT interview.
It starts with the design and not just with the disposal
The way to get there begins with the design and not just with the type of disposal. “To do this, we need minimum usage quotas for recyclates, but also digital product passports and clear labeling of the products with a uniform state recycling label, so that consumers can also see how they can protect the environment and climate in their daily consumption.”
In addition, the state must set a good example and consistently focus on green products in public procurement, which after all has an annual volume of around 400 billion euros at federal, state and local level.
And Wilms never sees the opportunity for change greater than today. “For the first time, the environment and economic ministries are both in the hands of the Greens. Working together, they can initiate many things and set them in motion. You just have to want it.” Wilms is also bothered by the absence of Robert Habeck at IFAT. “It is a scandal that the German Economics and Climate Protection Minister is missing from the largest environmental trade fair, where recycling raw materials and thus the most regional resources in the world are discussed.”
Remondis is therefore already preparing a letter of complaint to its authorities. This should also reflect how great the attention from other countries was on the solutions presented at IFAT for plastic, building materials and water, among other things.
“The international interest was unbelievable,” reports Wilms, referring to ministerial visits from Mexico, India and Malaysia, Romania, Bulgaria and Cyprus, among others. There were high-ranking delegations from Great Britain and the USA, Thailand and Israel, among others. “The lack of intuition from Germany is extremely disappointing,” says Wilms and warns. “This is how Germany won’t make it back to the top of the world when it comes to recycling.”
In total, IFAT, which was last able to take place four years ago due to the compulsory Corona break, attracted almost 120,000 visitors, reports the organizer Messe München. Around half of them came from abroad. The number of exhibitors meanwhile was almost 3,000. There were around 2,500 exhibitors and 75,000 visitors at the Hannover Messe industrial show held at the same time, including Chancellor Olaf Scholz (SPD).
There are also around 15,000 interested parties who have connected digitally. In Hanover this year, topics such as the disrupted supply chains, security of supply in the energy sector and the shortage of skilled workers were in the foreground. But the circular economy also played a role in Hanover, not least mentioned in the speeches given there by Robert Habeck. But words are no longer enough for the industry.
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