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World

Green Point Gets Results, But Trouble Lurks

Germany's biggest recycling enterprise says more packaging is being used over again in the country, but warns that a new mandatory can deposit law could imperil its success.

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A symbol of recycling in Germany

Germany's long tradition of environmental consciousness precedes the success of the Greens, the eco-friendly political party that became a part of the government in 1998 and brought a slew of earth-friendly legislation with it. As far back as 1990, the Duales System Deutschland (DSD) was set up as a private limited company to organize recycling of packaging materials in Germany.

Companies that are members of the non-profit Dual System distinguish their packaging with the "Green Dot" -- the "dual" standing for a second system operating parallel to municipal waste collection and disposal.

In its 10th annual report issued on Monday, the Dual System for collection, sorting and recycling of sales packaging for 2002 recorded a slight increase in comparison to the previous year -- with a total of 31 thousand additional tons adding to a total 6.32 million tons.

Hans-Peter Repnik, CEO of Duales System, said the numbers speak for themselves, adding: "We will continue to develop the ecological and economic efficiencies of packaging recycling."

Three yellow bags for 24 hours of power

Hans-Peter Repnik

Hans-Peter Repnik, CEO Dual System

In terms of recycling, German consumers are as conscientious as they come. They separate glass and paper -- and packaging distinguished with the "green dot" goes in a yellow container that is then taken away by collectors contracted by the Duales System. Municipal garbage collectors take care of anything that's left over.

It may be complicated, but at Monday's press conference, Duales System's Repnik said it was worth it. "Three yellow bags save as much power as a household uses in 24 hours," he maintained. "Every individual packaging represents a quantifiable contribution to preserving the environment.

The Green Dot system does appear to be effective. Sixty-seven billion megajoules of primary energy were saved last year, and 1.5 million tons less climate-damaging green-house gases emitted. That's more than a bus would use to travel three times to the sun and back -- and the amount driven by all the buses of the Rhine-Ruhr public transport system over six years.

Can deposit threatens recycling profits

But there is trouble on the horizon for the popular system. Repnik said he is concerned that Germany's controversial new mandatory deposit system on cans and some other beverage packaging could dampen the success of the Green Dot program. The new system, he noted, means that high quality materials that could be recycled at low cost are no longer processed by the Dual System.

DSD finances itself chiefly through sales of recycled material and fees paid by manufacturers for packaging materials. Any products removed from its recycling portfolio will result in diminished revenues. And with €1.9 billion in reported revenues in 2001, we're not talking about chump change here.

DSD officials predict the company will dispose of some 650,000 tons less packaging this year due to the law, resulting in a loss as great as €300-400 million ($340-453 million).

"We are therefore faced with the challenge, despite the worsened framework in which we have to operate, of further enhancing the overall environmental performance of the system," he said. "This we will do through the adoption of new working practices and technologies."

At the end of the day, the system will be made or broken by the commitment of the German people. "Change can only happen with our citizens' help -- and their willingness to separate their garbage on a daily basis," Repnik stressed. "This is a major factor in conserving our resources."

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