​Waste Disposal

What does “correct” or “proper disposal” mean? After all, we want to get rid of waste as cheaply as possible.
Part 1 of the introductory series of articles on corporate environmental protection.

The other articles in this series can be found here:
Part 2: Air pollution control
Part 3: Water protection
Part 4: Energy and climate protection

​Reasons for proper waste disposal

On the one hand, it is required by legislation, relatively easy for the authorities to monitor and impose fines. For a long time, there have been enough black sheep among the waste disposal companies that have not disposed of waste correctly in order to earn money. This in turn has led to the authorities taking a closer look.

That’s not the main reason, but there is a reason: Who hasn’t heard about the plastic waste islands in the Pacific? Of illegal dumping or incineration? Of plastic toys with toxic ingredients, made from recycled plastic? Of resource depletion? Let’s stop the polemics and get specific:

It’s enough for me to see that here with us everywhere where people are, somehow garbage is lying around. And it is still decidedly cleaner here than in other parts of the world. Paper handkerchiefs on the sidewalk, plastic packaging next to the hiking trails, disposable bottles in the ditch are still the more harmless things. Again, someone carted his yard waste into the woods – in a plastic bag! If he had poured it out, it could at least rot. Paint buckets by the forest road, fridge in the woods. No, enough is enough, and at this point in a double sense.

Incidentally, every piece of waste is paid for twice: first you bought it, then you have to get rid of it. With packaging, unfortunately, this is often the point, sometimes the more important aspect, for example, food packaging.

​What is waste anyway?

I like the definition from the German law, it’s nice and clear:

Waste within the meaning of this Act is any substance or object which the holder discards, intends to discard or is required to discard.

http://www.gesetze-im-internet.de/krwg/__3.html – my translation

So things, or rather, items I actually throw away, in the container, in the bin or others just in the landscape. Items I collect for disposal, in my case for example the box with the batteries, which I later take to the collection point. Things that I have to dispose of, perhaps by order of an authority.

Up to this point it is irrelevant whether the items are recycled or end up in landfill.

I do not want to go into topics such as by-products or the end of waste properties here yet. That would go beyond the scope of this article and make it unnecessarily complex.

​How do I deal with waste properly?

Another thing I like about the law is what is called the waste hierarchy:

Prevention and waste management measures are ranked as follows:
1. prevention,
2. preparation for re-use
3. recycling,
4. other recovery, in particular energy recovery and landfilling,
5. disposal

http://www.gesetze-im-internet.de/krwg/__6.html – my translation

Seems complicated at first. With the help of examples perhaps plausible and it can open up the sense:

​1. waste prevention

Waste that is not created in the first place is the best waste. Cares for the environment and your wallet. Yeah yeah, it’s true though. I once got a package from a shipper that was just in the box you get the product in at the local store. Colorfully printed, the neighborhood knew. Just a big address label on it, done. No extra gray cardboard box that I had to get rid of afterwards. There you go.

Do you manufacture goods – do you use up all the raw materials instead of disposing of as leftovers? Do you process materials, for example in construction – do you make sure that there is little waste when cutting? That is waste avoidance and economical on top of it.

​2. preparation for reuse

Return deposit bottles or give them to the deposit collector. To be able to reuse them. Yes, it can be that simple.

I regularly think of the IBC for this, which is still used as a rain barrel for a long time when cleaned.

​3. recycling

In distinction to point 4 this means material recycling. The cardboard that is made into new cardboard. Waste paper that is made into new paper. Used clothes, which become cleaning cloths.

Getting into topics like upcycling and downcycling would take me too far here, rather worth a separate post.

These first three levels of the waste hierarchy fit into the recycling concept. To use material in such a way that it can be reused and is not consumed, thus is gone.

​4. other recovery

Energy recovery is incineration. After that, the material is gone and only ashes. After all, the energy released during incineration is used, usually to generate electricity. Most “normal” waste incineration plants work like this.

Backfilling means using the waste to fill in old mining tunnels, for example, so that they cannot collapse.

Basically, this includes all disposal methods that take the waste out of the economic cycle, but still use the waste once. So only slightly better than the last step:

​5. elimination or disposal

In the end, the only remaining processes are those in which the waste is destroyed, i.e. it can no longer be used permanently. Word has already spread that many of our raw materials are not infinitely available. It therefore makes sense to see destruction only as a very last resort.

This should only apply to waste that is so hazardous or contaminated that we have no other solution with our current technologies. For example, building materials containing asbestos, we should already see to it that no asbestos fibres get into the air.

For example, chemicals that are so dangerous that we can only render them harmless by incineration. Where incineration is decidedly more important to destroy than to use the energy.

Unfortunately, landfilling in normal household waste landfills is also one of the disposal methods. After all, we have come so far in Germany that only waste that cannot be recycled with reasonable effort ends up here. At least there is hope that it can be at least partially recovered at some point.

​What does this mean for my company?

Everyone can avoid waste. Sometimes it just means giving it some thought and being careful with things. Please, no one may feel personally attacked when I say this so flippantly.

Can I do without some items without it being a sacrifice? I’m thinking of packaging for the first time. Does it have to be one more transport packaging? I’m thinking of shopping right now, in the private sector, but perhaps a good example: many people who go clothes shopping buy one item in each of several shops. Does it have to be a carrier bag in each store – or does the new piece fit into the other bag? Yes, I’m a male, but you can still say at the checkout: no bag please. You have less to carry.

Finding ways to reuse can be more elaborate. Here I see two simple tricks: Find out what public options exist in your area. In Germany, used glass collections are everywhere, used clothing collections and battery collection points too. Does your business generate this or similar waste? Can you put them in these public collections? Can your waste disposal company offer similar services?

Talk to your business partners, suppliers and customers: are there possibilities to do without packaging or to use packaging several times? Can other packaging be used that goes back and can be used often?

Can you deliver products more precisely in the quantities or dimensions as they are actually required?

All that is left now is waste that wants to be disposed of, initially whether recycled or disposed of.

​Waste separation is the key to recycling

The better the segregation, the greater the opportunities for high-quality recycling.

Service companies and small businesses often have it easy. Waste paper, plastic packaging, a few leftover meals and coffee grounds. Electronic waste when the computer gives up the ghost. The odd piece of residual waste, be it a cigarette butt or a vacuum cleaner bag. Sounds like home. Basically it is. It’s hardly worth thinking about even more elaborate separation. It’s perfectly fine to use the bins as you would at home, provided the waste management authority agrees.

Manufacturing companies and companies that trade in goods tend to generate more and different types of waste. The more waste is produced, the more important it becomes to separate it and dispose of it in the best possible way.

​How do I separate waste correctly?

In such a way that they can be utilized in a high-quality manner. I know I’ve said that enough times by now. The question is how exactly. Once again, it depends on what kind of waste is produced and what disposal methods are available to you.

Legislation provides us with very good assistance in the form of the German Commercial Waste Ordinance:

Producers and holders of commercial municipal waste shall collect and transport the following waste fractions separately and […] give them priority for preparation for re-use or recycling:
1. paper, cardboard and board except for sanitary paper,
2. glass
3. plastics
4. metals
5. wood
6. textiles
7. bio-waste […] and
8. other waste fractions

http://www.gesetze-im-internet.de/gewabfv_2017/__3.html – my translation

The following paragraph additionally states:

The mixing prohibition for hazardous waste of § 9 paragraph 2 of the Closed Substance Cycle Waste Management Act also in connection with § 15 paragraph 3 sentence 2 of the Closed Substance Cycle Waste Management Act remains unaffected.

http://www.gesetze-im-internet.de/gewabfv_2017/__3.html – my translation

​Step 1: Hazardous waste

Identify your hazardous wastes. They used to be called waste requiring monitoring or special monitoring. It will soon be obvious that pesticides and fluorescent tubes (containing mercury) belong into this category. It may make sense to seek expert advice. However, you will often already know if it is hazardous waste if you have disposed of it before. Your disposal company will also help you with the classification.

Collect and dispose of hazardous waste separately. If possible, find a disposal company that can provide a recycling process.

​Step 2: Commercial waste

Separate the non-hazardous waste into the fractions according to the Commercial Waste Ordinance. Cooperate with your waste disposal company. This will not only enable you to separate correctly in the legal sense. You may be able to do more if your disposal company can serve other recycling routes through targeted separation.

Perhaps this can be understood by two examples: According to the list, you collect metal separately. Can it make sense to collect and recycle black steel, stainless steel and aluminium separately? It makes sense. Above certain quantities, it is also economically worthwhile.

A similar example is plastics. With empty canisters, stretch films, construction films in quantities that fit into household bins, it will not be worth separating. But it is for larger quantities.

Or glass: Bottle glass and flat glass cannot be recycled together. You should collect and dispose of them separately.

​Step 3: Other waste

The legislator leaves it up to you to separate your waste into further fractions in order to dispose of them sensibly and economically. Recycling clearly takes precedence over disposal.

I do not want to go into this in depth here, nor into the subject of by-products, because this would be specific to the company and would go beyond the scope of this article.

​Step 4: The leftovers

All waste that cannot be further separated after the prescribed and sensible separation remains as residual waste. For me, it is irrelevant whether someone calls this “waste for recycling” – German: AzV – or municipal waste. If possible, your disposal company should put the residual waste into energy recovery, i.e. incinerate it to generate energy.

Keep the amount of residual waste as small as possible. Interestingly, the authorities assume that there is no business where there is no residual waste. Understandable, try to find a recycling process for cigarette butts or sweepings.

​In summary

Quite simple, really, isn’t it? Yes and no.

It is possible to identify the structure and objective of waste disposal. It is not a new insight that waste management and commercial and industrial waste disposal are operated according to economic criteria.

The practical implementation in your company becomes more complicated the more and the more unusual types of waste you have. But: there are rarely completely new wastes that have never been generated anywhere before.

Your first point of contact should be the disposal company you trust. They can not only help you to create collection structures that comply with the regulations. They know the waste market and can suggest good disposal routes.

And recycling comes before disposal.