Who has BDE and why

The global circular economy needs recycling trade

In 2018, Germany exported around 25.2 million tons of waste to a total of 163 countries. 89 percent of this waste remained in Europe. With a share of 41 percent, metals were the largest item in this trade. Plastics accounted for just four percent (1.1 million tons) of the total. The total volume of waste in Germany in 2018 was 417 million tons.

This is the result of a study by the BDE Federal Association of German Waste Management, Water and Raw Materials Management, which the association presented on Thursday in Berlin.

The survey also shows that 95 percent of waste exports came from 24 countries. With a share of 26 percent, the Netherlands is at the top. Malaysia therefore has a share of one percent and is in 20th place in the statistics.

The BDE study also comes to the conclusion that 97 percent of waste exports relate to seven raw material works. After metals, 25 percent is plant and animal waste. Recovered paper accounts for 11 percent of the export volume, followed by ash and slag at nine percent. With a share of three percent and two percent, waste wood and textiles have a comparatively low share.

In the same year, Germany imported a total of 21.5 million tons of waste. 98 percent of this import volume came from seven types of raw materials. Here, vegetable and animal waste (29 percent), metals (28 percent) and waste paper (22 percent) accounted for the largest share. 89 percent of the imports came from European countries.

BDE President Peter Kurth said at the presentation of the study: “The worldwide trade in waste is one of the topics that are discussed very emotionally in the public debate. The BDE study, which evaluates the data from the Federal Statistical Office for 2018, is a contribution to objectifying the debate. Our survey provides a comprehensive overview of the actual situation with the import and export of waste. The plastic littering of the world's oceans is not based on international trade in waste.

Only trading enables raw materials to be extracted from recycling materials that do without the resource-damaging extraction from natural deposits. Waste imports and exports therefore make a significant contribution to resource protection, which could have even stronger effects if circular economy structures were finally established worldwide. The trade in waste creates the conditions for the materials to be treated and further processed where it makes economic and ecological sense and not where the materials arise. Countries that do not have a processing industry must be allowed to export their separately collected waste, otherwise recycling will not take place at all.

Furthermore, the international waste trade is an amount to finally put an end to the landfilling of untreated waste. As an association, we have long been calling for this landfill to be stopped, which must first take effect in Europe, but ultimately also worldwide. Another important point is the active fight against illegal waste shipments, which cause damage worldwide and discredit an industry of the future. Here we demand the improvement of international cooperation and a worldwide offensive against this criminal machinations.

The BDE is convinced that the meaningful combination of ecology and economy can only succeed if production and consumption are different around the world. This will only be possible if we not only consume materials, but use them and keep them in circulation. This requires international trade in waste, which is raw material for recycling processes. The aim must be to forego the use of natural resources more and more in the future. This is the only way to achieve a circular economy, to protect the climate, to conserve resources and to save energy. "

The full study can be found here.