Germany has become one of the major importers of hazardous waste from all over the planet, a giant waste disposal facility for the rest of the world. Munitions waste from Sweden, pesticides from Columbia, asbestos-contaminated rubble from the United States, solvents from China and lead-acid batteries from Montenegro. Nothing that harms human beings, animals and the environment seems to be missing on the list, which is meticulously kept by the German Environmental Ministry. And the amounts have tripled since 2000 to reach more than 2,000 tons. Import volumes of asbestos-contaminated waste has risen by 400 percent in this period -- that of industrial sludge by as much as 500 percent.
The reason behind this economic growth consists in Germany's unusually strict environmental regulations. They've ensured that the world's best hazardous waste incineration plants were built in Germany, which also has the greatest know-how. But the high-tech incinerators only make economic sense if they are used at or near full capacity. Germany's plant operators would face overcapacities of as much as 20 percent if they didn't process hazardous waste from abroad. Even the Dutch have closed down two hazardous waste incinerator facilities in Rotterdam, since grateful takers are waiting just across the border, in Germany's North Rhine-Westphalia region. They get €900 ($1,182) per tonne. "You've got such good facilities," says Paul Braams from Rotterdam's waste combustion service. "Why should we spend good money to bring our own incinerators up to date?"
The Germans created an industrial sector that is becoming vital to the rest of the world. And we are thankful to them for taking upon themselves the solution to a very difficult problem, the safe disposal of toxic waste. From my personal experience I know that makhteshim Agan has solved its environmental problems by exporting its waste to Germany, since we are unable to deal with it. It is quite possible that Ramat Hovav industrial area could not exist without the Germans accepting toxic waste for a reasonable price. High temperature incineration is high and difficult engineering and an industry requiring experience and capitals. Quietly, Germans have established a vital world monopoly - and if history is any guide, soon they will be in a position to rise prices. Virtue pays, and environmental good citizenship will end by making them (even more) rich. Which is as it should be.