Since the 1970s, Germany and other countries have invested vast effort in developing a systematic, advanced waste management sector that in the form it has reached today meets the definition of a circular economy.
To conserve our shared resources, waste management in general must follow the principle of the waste hierarchy. While safe landfills will always be needed for residual waste, there are many ways to reduce the environmental impact by extracting recyclable materials and energy from waste.
The obligation to do this starts with waste producers and owners; it is they who are the potential polluters, can decide what happens with waste, and carry the responsibility (including financially). Application and enforcement of the polluter pays principle is key to the success of an advanced waste management and recycling sector. Only if those who produce waste pay for its treatment will the necessary incentives be created for environmentfriendly conduct and the required investment.
The community (local government/the state) must enforce the principles, and step in where they do not work well enough. The state has a duty to intervene in particular to avert potential hazards (precautionary principle). For example, it can make use of alternative funding systems or waste management structures of its own to attain the goals of advanced waste management.
Waste should be disposed of close to where it arises to avoid unnecessary transportation and the related environmental impacts and risks (proximity principle). If environment-friendly capacity is located further away, however, transportation may make sense – possibly including to another country; the development of a highcapacity waste management infrastructure and inter-regional cooperation are important factors in the establishment of an advanced circular economy.
A further key tenet is the subsidiarity principle, which says that tasks should be carried out at the level best suited to handling them – whether this is the private sector or the state, national or local government. Costs, benefits and efficiency often come down to proximity to where waste arises and is treated – a prime example of ‘think global, act local’.