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Synthesis/Regeneration 7-8   (Summer 1995)

Die Grünen: Strategies for Resisting Dioxin

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Big energy companies are trying to gain control of waste disposal. This part of the economy had growth rates of 20% in the latest recession that Germany is now recovering from. Only by illegal means, like drug trafficking, selling firearms or prostitution, can you make more money.

Through their monopoly in the energy sector and the inappropriately high profit margins which they have maintained for years, energy companies have amassed enormous profits and capital that has to be re-invested. Their plan for investing this money in nuclear power collapsed under public pressure. Now, high-investment and high-profit incinerators seem to be their choice. Not only is an incinerator more harmful to the environment than a bio-mechanical plant while at the same time creating fewer jobs; it also costs ten times as much. But since all investments will be collected from the public as fees, they are sure to have a high yield.

Counter strategies from the Greens' point of view. We want to bind big business to an ecological use of materials based on the natural cycle that avoids poisonous and non-biodegradable substances, while minimizing the use of materials and waste output and making products fit for recycling.

1. Bans. Greens want a total ban of particularly dangerous substances like PVC. This can be the first step towards disposing of the entire extremely dangerous chlorine-using branch of the chemical industry. It would be a first step to impose a primary energy tax because chlorine chemistry is so attractive thanks to massively subsidized electricity.

2. Taxes as a steering instrument. Taxes are an important steering instrument for us. These specific taxes have—unlike regular taxes—a two-fold effect: harmful production is taxed but in turn this money is invested to support environmentally sound production or to take care of dangerous waste from the past. This taxation method has been used successfully in recent years by Social Democrat/Green coalition governments on the state level. The standard argument against it is that these more expensive products can't successfully compete in the market, which would be unfair on the companies. This claim, however, has not proven to be correct.

3. Accountability of producers. Producers must be held accountable for their products and by-products. Part of this is that for each product they have to draw up ecological balance sheets (energy and materials balances) to classify its ecological harmfulness. The old idea of a packaging law has to be put into reality. It is very important that disposal goes back to being state run. We have discussed a plan of charging rent for recoverably disposed waste. This waste will be stored for rent until it can be recycled by approved methods. Waste can be separated for sensible recycling. This can be steered through taxation.

4. Increase resistance to end-of-the-pipe technology. We have to increase pressure on producers to change their production methods in such a way that an economic cycle develops, so that waste can be returned to the biological cycle. This will be achieved through massive resistance against new incinerators. If end-of-the-pipe technology is made impossible, problems will have to be solved preventively at the production level.

Incinerators are environmentally harmful despite their activated carbon filters. We want waste management policies that make incinerators superfluous. This is why we are strictly against the planned nation wide construction of incinerators. We also want to revise federal waste disposal regulations to favor bio-mechanical procedures.

5. Labeling requirements. It is important to introduce mandatory labeling and to reduce plastic to just a few kinds. This will enable consumers to shop selectively. Labeling will make real recycling possible.

6. Break the energy giants' power. A decisive impediment to an ecological economy in Germany is the increasing control over waste management by energy companies. This control has to be diminished. From the Green's perspective, it is necessary to go beyond the classical environmental protection issues (for example through participation in government) and connect environmental and economic issues.

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