Circular economy is a key field of action for environmental policy. An essential element of German waste management policy is the product responsibility of manufacturers. This means that manufacturers and distributors must bear waste-related responsibility for their products throughout their design lifetime. This approach aims to ensure that the conditions for environmentally sound waste prevention and recovery are already in place at the production stage. The aim is to design products in a way which
- reduces waste
- facilitates reuse of the product or individual components and
- allows environmentally sound recovery or disposal of products that have become waste.
It is assumed that the manufacturers know the composition, components and the impact of their products best and are therefore most likely to be able to separate them after the use phase into recyclable materials and pollutants and then direct these into reuse, high-quality recycling or safe disposal. The main instruments of product responsibility are return obligations for manufacturers’ products that have become waste and the establishment of collection and recycling requirements.
Waste-related product responsibility is a cornerstone of modern circular economy which also contributes significantly to resource efficiency in Germany and the practical implementation of the polluter pays principle. Product responsibility has been introduced in Germany for both packaging and for waste oil, batteries, old vehicles and electrical and electronic equipment. Corresponding rules can be found in the respective acts and regulations (Packaging Act, Waste Oil Ordinance, Batteries Act, End-of-Life Vehicle Ordinance, Electrical and Electronic Equipment Act).