General Information

Waste management - what is important to know?

What is waste management about?

Waste prevention, re-use, recycling, recovery, disposal: this is what is referred to as waste hierarchy, the foundation of waste management in Germany. In the past, waste management was merely about waste disposal, but it has since been recognised that waste is a valuable resource which can be used effectively to conserve natural resources. Waste prevention means consuming fewer raw materials and reducing burdens on the environment. Waste recovery means reintroducing raw materials and energy into the economic cycle. Waste management is an important industrial sector in Germany and provides high-quality technology for the efficient use of waste as a resource and the environmentally sound disposal of remaining residual waste.


The German government aims to achieve almost complete high-quality recovery, of municipal waste at least, by 2020. The target for other types of waste is a recycling and energetic recovery quota of 65 percent. This will eliminate the need to landfill wastes, which has adverse effects on the climate.

Resource conservation and climate measures will be incorporated into waste management to a greater extent at European and international level over the next few years, for example by minimising climate-damaging methane and carbon dioxide emissions and substituting fossil fuels. Germany supports these endeavours with expertise and innovative technology.

Policy of the German government

Towards materials flow management

The German government intends to continue developing waste management and circular economy activities to achieve a sustainable and resource-efficient materials flow management over the next years. By strict separation of waste, through pretreatment, recycling and energy recovery, Germany aims to make full use of substances and materials bound in wastes, thus preventing their climate-damaging disposal in landfills. Significant ecological progress was made with the entry into force of the strict ban on landfilling untreated household waste or general waste from industry on 1 June 2005.

Key instrument: product responsibility

Product responsibility is at the heart of waste management policy in Germany. It puts the idea into practice that waste is best prevented by holding the generator of waste responsible. Accordingly, producers and distributors must design their products to reduce waste occurrence and allow environmentally sound recovery and disposal of the residual substances, both in production of the goods and in their subsequent use. The legal bases for this are the Circular Economy Act and the Federal Immission Control Act. Product responsibility has been introduced for packaging, end-of-life vehicles, waste electrical and electronic equipment, batteries and waste oils.

Innovative waste concepts to promote responsible resource management and climate-friendly policies

Sustainable waste management that includes modern and efficient treatment technologies promotes both resource conservation and climate-friendly policies. The German government therefore advocates the further development of waste management at European and international level. Germany often takes on a pioneering role in shaping EU waste legislation. At national level, the German government supports sustainable waste management concepts for obtaining raw materials or energy from waste. The German waste management sector has the highest waste recovery quotas worldwide, and thus already contributes significantly to sustainable development and climate-friendly policies.

Consumer information

Waste prevention starts with shopping habits such as bringing baskets or shopping bags instead of buying plastic or paper bags, choosing products with no packaging over products with elaborate packaging and buying reusable bottles instead of one-way bottles or cans. The use of plastic bags has dropped significantly since retailers agreed to charge a fee for them. It is relatively easy to help prevent waste and protect the environment. For example, it only takes 35 recycled PET bottles to make a fleece sweater, size large. If packaging cannot be avoided, it should not be thrown out with general waste, but placed in containers for recyclables. The more carefully consumers separate their waste, the greater the benefit for the environment. Batteries, paints, lacquers and old electric appliances do not belong in general waste. In these cases, too, it is better spend some time on smart disposal today rather than having to pay for solutions to environmental problems tomorrow.