INTERNATIONAL: German Waste Industry Acts To Upgrade Standing

Like their American counterparts, German private waste firms and their employees face criticisms and insults. These escalated to charges of irresponsibility and illegal dealings when isolated incidences of scandal were uncovered in Germany.

The attacks were not aimed se-lectively at those responsible, thus tending to tarnish the reputation of the entire business. To its defense, however, comes the Federal As-sociation of the German Waste Collection and Disposal Industry (BDE), founded in 1961 to represent private waste firms.

At the association's 1992 annual convention, BDE administrative director Frank-Rainer Billigmann stated that those who leveled these charges failed to look at the facts. They did not stop to reflect that more than half of Germany's households rely on private industry to rid them of their waste. On a daily basis, some 44 million residents let the collection crews onto their property, an act of trust that would not happen if the waste industry were in truth corrupt. In addition, BDE member firms are entrusted with the removal of ap-proximately 70 percent of the municipal waste from commercial establishments and 90 percent of the special wastes.

Another fact, Billigmann noted, is that the waste industry is dominated by people "dedicated to the task of creating decent living conditions to pass on to future generations." Often these are middle-class family businesses, where sons and daughters have been raised to follow in their parents' footsteps. In contrast, those firms that have been involved in the scandals and made a fast Deutschmark off un-wary communities are not the classic waste businesses such as the typical BDE members.

To combat such misrepresentations, the BDE has undertaken ef-forts to advance industry-wide qualifications and standards. Billigmann cited the association's far-reaching goals:

* legal proof of competence and reliability for waste firms as well as their employees;

* permanent training courses and continuing education; and

* comprehensive safe working conditions.

As the ones most familiar with the business from the private in-dustry perspective, the BDE set for itself the additional goal of implementing necessary measures, and preventing red tape in the process.

In just one year, significant steps have been taken toward meeting these goals, reports Hanskarl Willms, director of public relations for the BDE.

Currently, the BDE is establishing the criteria for certification of firms dealing with controlled wastes under the Basel Conven-tion. Certification is to serve as a means of reducing the risk that unqualified, unscrupulous firms will export wastes without adequate prior arrangements for their proper use or management. Provi-sions for certification are to be written into a German law to be drafted by next spring in compliance with a European Community guideline.

At the individual level, the path to certification depends on the em-ployee's background. Provisions for those crossing over from other fields used to be lacking. Now, however, the BDE is filling this gap by setting up its own educational program of courses recognized by the Chamber of Commerce and In-dustry.

Individuals with relevant experience, on the other hand, can earn the recognized rank of master in waste collection and disposal. This opportunity, provided by a 1989 ordinance, follows the German tradition of apprenticeships. A prep-aratory course is offered through BDE's sister organization, the As-sociation for Community Waste Management and Cleaning (VKS), which represents waste collection and disposal in the public sector, in conjunction with the Center for Training and Continuing Education in Water and Waste Management. Participants can take an intensive 12-month correspondence course while gaining practical experience, followed by 47 days of classroom instruction and the final examination. The course is open to public- and private-sector employees.

The BDE, together with the VKS, is well on the way to shaping a highly qualified work force and raising levels of service. A particular challenge, Willms acknowledges, is the task of protecting wor-ker safety. The necessary laws are in place, but companies and em-ployees sometimes choose to ex-ceed the prescribed shift length or ignore the recommended safety equipment. The BDE's approach is one of guidance, not rebuke, so meeting this goal will require persistent efforts.