Germany's Green Dot plastics recycling system may bid out its most important task - collection - to see if the private sector can cut down on the number of corporate freeloaders. A proposed amendment is aimed at scofflaw companies that ignore the German collections law's ``take back'' intent. The worst offenders simply refuse to pay the state's packaging collection agent, Duales System Deutschland.
According to recycling consultant Winston Porter in Sterling, Va., as much as 40 percent of material picked up through the Duales System is not Green Dot fee-paid packaging, or even plastic.
The amendment is aimed at smaller companies, which are more likely to ignore the manufacturer's responsibility law. The change would allow these firms to use any collection system they choose, so long as what they collect is documented and reported to the environment ministry annually.
DSD, one of several industry-paid collection consortia in Germany, eliminates the need for cities to collect 30-50 percent of the waste stream, according to Lynn Scarlett, an environmental consultant in Santa Barbara, Calif., connected with the California-based Reason Foundation. Scarlett said that DSD generally is supported by larger companies.
But the amendment would allow small firms to find less-costly alternatives to DSD -and still have the right to display the official Green Dot to show they are taking back plastics.
The move would broaden compliance and cut costs for those companies that do pay the required fee to display the logo on their packaging, say backers such as Wilhelm Croessman, an engineer with the General Association of German Plastic Converters/GKV in Frankfurt.
``If we have a greater amount of [plastic packaging marked with the] Green Dot sold, we can reduce the price paid by those who are cooperating,'' Croessman said.
He predicts the measure will pass the national legislative body in the fall, but probably will not have much effect on recyclers.
He said his group will comment on the proposed regulation at the end of February.
Recyclers will not be affected, he said, because ``there's no difference to the amount of money we collect or the amount of plastics we receive,'' as DSD pays recyclers to process recyclables DSD collects.
But critics of the move call the amendment mere tinkering, noting that it keeps recycling at the core of the German waste-reduction law, limiting the law's scope. Porter likened proposing the change to ``rearranging the deck chairs on the Titanic.'' He urged Germany to rethink its 5-year-old system.
The U.S. is ``as good at recycling as [Germans] are, but we don't collect that much plastic,'' said Porter, a former Environmental Protection Agency official. ``To continue fighting the battle to increase plastics recycling to an artificially high rate is a specious argument.
``They're spending a huge amount of money to recycle something [plastic] that won't recycle'' as cost-effectively as other materials. ``They think of new and creative ways to do the impossible.''
The Germans should ``take a look at their assumptions.''
``They should have broad targets and let the market work its will,'' he said.
``We in the U.S.A. are recycling more total trash than the Germans, and we're doing it at a third of the cost. Some people are making money here - not all that many, but in Germany you have simply command and control, with predictable results.''