EC member states see red over Germany's green dot: While many Community countries grapple with the continuing problem of waste disposal, recycling has become a political hot potato

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The Independent Online
IN post-Maastricht Europe, some of the worst disputes between countries may be over household rubbish and recycling as the Community gets to grips with the problem of the ever- growing mountain of solid waste produced by its citizens.

In parts of the United States, where organised crime is deep into the rubbish disposal industry, recycling can hardly get off the ground. One result is that crowded east coast states like New York often send their rubbish thousands of miles to dumps in the wide-open spaces of the Midwest. Rather than make the return trip empty-handed, some of the lorrydrivers load cargoes of fresh vegetables and other produce in the back of their filthy vehicles.

In Germany, the country's 86 million citizens are so enthusiastic about recycling every scrap of household waste that they have overburdened the country's ability to handle it. Much of the household rubbish is exported to other countries, swamping their own tiny recycling programmes.

The French are particularly angry about German rubbish imports and have threatened to close the border to this unforeseen and unwelcome aspect of the single market. Britain, with its laid-back approach to recycling, is also up in arms over the deluge of German rubbish that comes to these shores, much of it subsidised, as are the Spanish, Dutch, Italians, and Irish.

The French, who have problems enough disposing of their own rubbish, see red when convoys of lorries ferry German household, industrial and hospital waste to their dumps. They also think the German policy of recycling every scrap of household rubbish is wrong-headed and their preferred alternative is to incinerate rubbish.

The French claim that modern incinerators, which use plastics mixed in with rubbish as fuel to burn the household waste, do not harm the environment. A state-of-the-art incineration plant at Saint Ouen near Paris, burns as much as 60,000 tons of rubbish a year, and the heat generated in the process generates enough energy to heat a medium-sized town.

One of the main problems with recycling is the cost of re-using plastic - everything from yoghurt con tainers to the bottles that once contained spring water. The French solution is to use the plastic as fuel to burn rubbish, rather than spend more money recycling the plastic. Paris is lobbying hard to persuade the EC not to set stiff recycling quotas as it tries to come to grips with the household rubbish mountain. Germany, with some of the strictest environmental laws in Europe, has severe restrictions on incineration, however.

Other EC countries are just as bothered by the German enthusiasm for recycling, saying that it creates difficulties for companies who are trying to sell goods in Germany, because their products do not have the 'green dot' seal of approval that German manufacturers are allowed to use if they pay towards the country's recycling programme. The green dots indicate that products will be recycled, or otherwise disposed of, outside Germany's borders. Germany's highly organised system is run by a private sector operation known as Duales System Deutschland, or DSD. The environment is the number one issue for most German consumers, so they like buying products with the green dot. But so enthusiastic are they about recycling that the DSD is overburdened and a great deal of Germany's rubbish is exported.

France and Britain complain that the green-dot system and German consumer's enthusiasm for recycling have created a barrier to trade in the EC. The problem is that Germans do not want to buy products which do not bear the green dot, so foreign companies, selling without the benefit of the green dot, feel disadvantaged.

(Photograph omitted)

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