World export leader Germany becomes major garbage importer
15 April 2004,
15 April 2004
HAMBURG - Germany is importing garbage from abroad to keep its incinerators operating at full capacity, to the relief of Italians fed up with the stench of uncollected rubbish in suburban Naples.
The first rotting trainload arrived last week at the Weisweiler incinerator on a greenfield site near the Dutch and Belgian borders. At full capacity, the plant can generate enough steam to produce electricity for 60,000 households at once.
Only a decade ago, Germany was embroiled in a scandal over garbage exports, with its trash being discovered on dumps in poor nations where environmental regulations are lax. Those exports were later banned.
German environmentalists are outraged at the waste of energy in transporting garbage by rail on a three-day journey across the Alps. Yet, Baerbel Hoehn, environment minister in the state of North Rhine Westphalia, says it is all legal, even if she does not like it.
Hoehn, herself a Green, says it all comes from Germany being an ultra, low-cost processor of waste.
Last week, a Belgian newspaper, De Tijd, reported that about half a million tons of Belgian household and factory waste was bound for German plants this year.
"Germany has become a magnet because of our low prices," said Hoehn in an interview at her office in Dusseldorf. "They pay 40 euros a ton here, whereas a landfill in the Netherlands charges EUR 80."
In 2002 alone, German incinerators processed 1.6 million tons of Dutch garbage.
Hoehn has assured constituents that the garbage is not dangerous, saying the bulk of it consists of factory cut-offs, used packaging and scrap wood. But just to be sure, samples are taken from the arriving garbage and checked in laboratories.
At Weisweiler, staff wear masks as they shift the Italian trash from a railway siding to the giant hoppers. Most of it is kitchen waste that has been stored for months on end in huge plastic bags in the Naples area.
All the Naples dumps were closed in 2001 because they were full and leaking tip effluent. Civic action groups have opposed the creation of new dumps or incinerators, so garbage was moved to staging areas. But these too are nearly full.
Some municipalities have allowed garbage to accumulate for months on end on roadsides, and the smell is bad.
News reports say schools and kindergartens have been closed for fear of contagion. Residents have taken to conducting their own burn-offs in city streets and the smoke may contain poison gases.
Weisweiler has contracted to take 25,000 tons of Neapolitan garbage by October to relieve some of the strain.
The plant is a "public-private partnership" jointly set up by German municipalities and RWE Umwelt West, a unit of the multinational stockmarket-quoted German-based utility RWE.
The garbage is turned on drums at 1,000 to 1,200 degrees celsius until it has shrivelled to ash.
Looking more like a huge warehouse than a waste site, the plant treats flue gases to remove both heat and pollutants. A filtration plant eliminates dust, scrubbers remove acids, sulphur and heavy metals and a catalyser deals with dioxines and other poisons.
Subject: German news