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In Germany, the new Closed Substance Cycle and Waste Management Act, which comes into force in September 1996, means that producers and consumers will have to make a radical rethink in the field of waste. The Act integrates product responsibility into economic decision-making, with the aim of building a life cycle economy that avoids the generation of waste.

The Act states that whoever produces, markets and consumes goods is reponsible for the avoidance, recycling, reuse and environmentally-sound disposal of waste that arises. As a result, trade and industry as well as private consumers will have to “think waste” from the outset. A hierachy of avoidance, recovery and disposal is established, setting a primary obligation to avoid waste in production procedures and to promote low-waste products. Where this is not possible, waste is to be recovered for its component substances or as energy, and where recovery is impossible, waste must be disposed of in an environmentally-friendly way.

Producers have to take responsibility for their products, so that they are designed in a way that avoids waste in the use and manufacture stages, and ensures environmentally sound disposal at the end of the life cycle. The Act is therefore working towards the development of products that are multi-use, long-life and repair-friendly, and which can be recycled and disposed of as unproblematically as possible. To implement the polluter pays principle, the new Act also gives the responsibility to trade and industry for setting up and operating recovery and disposal facilities: a quality label for waste disposal operators will be introdused.

Federal Ministry for the Environment, Germany, 1994