Senator a.D. Peter Kurth: Recycling management between urban centres and rural areas

Cities with millions of inhabitants and high demographic dynamics are faced with the ­challenge of the utility and disposal industries, which in addition have to deal with Germany’s high standards in regard to environmental protection. The region around Germany’s capital is affected by this as well, as a contribution by BDE president, Peter Kurth, illustrates.

Recycling management between urban centres and rural areas. Urbanisation and the demographic change are two global mega trends that also affect Berlin. More and more people are leaving rural areas for different reasons and settle in cities. There are currently more than 3.5 million people living in Berlin and the Senate Administration of Berlin predicts that by the year 2030 the city will have nearly 3.75 million inhabitants. Simultaneously the average age is expected to increase from the current 42.3 years to 44.2 years. In Brandenburg, however, beyond Berlin’s exurbs, the population will decrease by 250,000 to 2.25 million inhabitants by 2030. For this reason, the metropolitan region of Berlin-Brandenburg, more than almost any other region, faces the challenge of adapting its utility and disposal infrastructure to the new demographic situation. A challenge which companies in recycling management have taken on with innovative concepts. The consequences of the population growth and an increasingly aging society in Berlin are what drives the development of new solutions for the collection and recycling of waste.

Today, recycling management unites ecology and economy. The city cleaners and rubbish collectors of yesterday are today’s modern recycling management companies. They have considered rubbish to be recyclable material for a long time. As environmental service providers they are part of the Green Economy. Disposal companies extract secondary raw mater­ials from rubbish thanks to modern processes and engineering knowledge. Every seventh tonne of raw material used in Germany today already comes from recycling. Waste, but also specifically recycled substitute fuels, is used to generate heat and electricity. Primary energy carriers such as carbon and gas are saved. From the global corporation Siemens to the BSR, the largest municipal disposal company in Germany, the inter­nationally operating recycling specialist ALBA or the Green Tec Awards, Europe’s most important envi­­ronmental tech­­nology award: over 75,000 employees and more than 6,000 companies are part of Green Economy at the business location of Berlin. There are over 300 companies in waste management alone.

The ALBA Group, for example, processes nearly 140,000 tonnes of plastic waste per year in Berlin-Mahlsdorf. The sorting facility separates the plastic waste of over five million inhabitants of the metropolitan region of Berlin-Brandenburg in twelve groups using optical electronics and near-infrared cameras. The Wertstoff-Union Berlin sorts and presses about 120,000 tonnes of waste paper annually. As a secondary raw material, waste paper already makes up 70 per cent in paper production today, as it does in the Brandenburg paper factories of UPM, Leipa or Hamburger Rieger. The companies represent only a small fraction of the processing companies which produce high-quality secondary raw materials and make them available to industry. Apart from waste that is recycled to secondary raw materials, Berlin’s residual waste is processed thermally by BSR to generate electricity and heat for 61,000 households. Together with ALBA, the BSR operates two mechanical-physical stabilisation plants (MPS plants) in Berlin and produces the high-performance, climate-friendly substitute fuel “green carbon”.

Partner for challenges in city planning. Recycling management is facing logistical challenges when it comes to disposal due to the higher volume of rubbish generated by the urban population. Technical solutions such as underfloor systems or underground disposal point the way to overcoming challenges of the future. New paths in horizontal and vertical disposal must be pursued when the population ages or when cities expand upwards due to limited space.

The Daimler property at Potsdamer Platz exemplifies how newly constructed residential and commercial properties can be reliably supplied and waste reliably disposed of in the future. Almost 3,000 tonnes of commercial rubbish are collected underground annually and transported to the ALBA Group’s recycling plants via lorry. In developed residential areas, such as in Berlin-Hohenschönhausen, modern underfloor systems can take on a large amount of rubbish in limited space. This makes additional areas available on which green spaces, playgrounds or parking lots can be created.

In terms of logistics, modern electrically or natural gas-­pow­­ered vehicles have become an everyday sight in the cityscape. CO2-free urban logistics and the low-noise supply and disposal in multi-shift operations increase the quality of life in Berlin significantly. The Berlin-based disposal industry benefits from state-of-the-art technology in a city with a flourishing start-up scene. Information and communication systems with various interfaces on and in vehicles, chip tech­nology for rubbish bins and a computer-optimised route planning have already made their way into rubbish disposal.

Green Economy – Creating opportunities for climate protection and growth. The dynamics behind the Green Economy – the Germany-wide market volume is expected to nearly double from today’s 350 billion euros by 2025 – are de­­velop­­ing also due to activities in Berlin. Well-established as a scientific region in Europe, Berlin and its universities and universities of applied sciences offer numerous environmental and sustainability-oriented degree programmes. Companies active in the Green Economy appreciate the long-term planning options available in Berlin and invest in plants, vehicles and qualified personnel. This makes it possible for companies in the disposal and recycling management sectors to provide the citizens in the metropolitan region of Berlin-Brandenburg with a full range of services, which adapt to the changes in the city and the cityscape. At the same time, Berlin also offers opportunities for tapping into the Green Economy potential available in neighbouring EU countries such as Poland and the Czech Republic, whose waste management industry is currently being reorganised.

Peter_Kurth_XL-1Senator a.D. Peter Kurth
The author is President of the Federation of German Waste, Water and Raw Materials Management Industry (BDE). Peter Kurth was secretary of state at the Berlin Senate Department for Finance and Finance Senator of the federal capital of Berlin from 1999 to 2001. From 2001 to 2009, he was a member of the executive board of ALBA AG, and has been Managing President of BDE since 2009 and has been member of the presidium of the Federation of German Industries (BDI) since 2012.