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Lessons on capacity building for waste management from Germany

Part 2: Two case studies from Germany: Academic and dual vocational training 

Lessons on capacity building for waste management from Germany

Wednesday March 21, 2018,

13 min Read

This article is an extension of the previous article 'How can capacity-building change the status of waste management in India?'. The article will provide you with an overview of the current status of capacity building in the Indian waste sector. We will then look at lessons that India can learn from Germany, a country with an advanced waste management system. Two case studies on capacity building and training in the waste management sector in Germany showcase what can be gained.

Finally, you will find recommendations on how capacity building and training in India can lead to sustainable waste management in the country.


What has been the status of capacity building (CB) in waste sector in India so far?

There are a very few CB programs targeted at waste management (WM) actors in India. Most CB programs have been a part of large schemes for urban growth and development. These programs have ambitious capacity building goals covering several sectors but they lack a focussed view of the waste sector. More so, such CB programs are mostly targeted at governmental bodies or elected representatives to improve the urban governance and service delivery, not for technical skill building. In addition, they are not systematically planned and run only until the project ends.

National Capacity Building Project under the Clean India Mission (Swacch Bharat Mission SBM) launched in 2015 is the only dedicated program by Ministry of Urban Development (MOUD) and Ministry of Environment, Forests and Climate Change (MOEF&CC) which is targeted at strengthening implementation of six WM rules in 70 Cities of India.The program aims to build awareness of diverse stakeholders like Urban Local Bodies, NGOs, industries, etc. about the applicability of rules, duties of different authorities and their mandates. Since the program is awareness oriented, the program curriculum is generic and does not build specialised or targeted technical skills of stakeholders working at different levels and domains in the waste sector.

Some organisations involved in the training of WM staff in India include International Council for Local Environmental Initiatives (ICLEI), Centre for Science and Environment (CSE), The Energy and Resource Institute (TERI), National Productivity Council (NPC), and Centre for Environment and Development (CED), etc. Again, the training provided by these institutions are not sufficient to target the vertical demand for vocation training in waste management. 

Some key stakeholders like Private sector, sanitation workers and staff, technology providers, young entrepreneurs, students and citizens are often not included in such training. At the academic level, waste as a subject is taught in Public Health or Environmental Engineering colleges and universities. So far, this type of training does not prepare candidates to meet the emerging needs of the sector because of the wide gap between science and practice in India. 

Vocational training in the waste sector is yet to be mainstreamed in India. The Skill Council for Green Jobs (SCGJ) for the first time published a curriculum for safai Karamchari (cleaning personnel) and has also begun to conduct some vocational training with them. These training programs tend to enhance skills of unskilled or semiskilled workers involved in cleaning and waste collection jobs. SKCJ now see a need for more advanced vocational training for preparing the workforce to handle more complicated operations.

The CB and Training institutions face numerous challenges with respect to CB in the waste sector. These include: Inadequate mainstreaming of waste as a subject in urban development projects, lack of user-targeted material, infrastructure for experiential and machine learning, ambiguity on skills or qualifications of WM staff, strong hierarchy in offices which does not allow sanitation workers an opportunity to get trained, rapid shuffling of staff at ULBs which makes it difficult to apply the knowledge gained in such trainings in real situation, low consideration attached to local needs and preferences of stakeholders, for e.g. linguistic preferences, educational tools, protective gear suiting to climatic conditions of the beneficiary, etc. There is a dire need to transform the skill building and training landscape in India by bringing more concerted efforts and partnerships in this sector.

Lessons from Germany: Capacity building and training for waste management

The German education and training procedure for WM is quite developed. Interest in training originated mainly due to legal obligations for specialised knowledge.

Vocational Training for recycling & waste management

Like many European nations, Germany has a National Vocational Education and Training (NVET) system in the area of WM. Vocational training for environmental occupations is regulated by ‘Verordnung über die Berufsausbildung in den umwelttechnischen Berufen’ (Regulation on vocational training in environmental occupations). The regulation provides rules and overarching framework for specialization in a) water supply technology, b) wastewater technology, c) recycling and waste management and d) for pipe, sewer and industrial services. The recycling and waste management specialist course offers three options: a) Waste disposal and treatment, b) waste recycling and treatment, c) Logistics, collection and sales. Germany has a dual training system, therefore, these pieces of training combine vocational education at a vocational school and apprenticeship at an industry or company. The certificate is issued to candidates who complete the three-year training and pass the exams which include both written tests and hands-related tasks on WM processes. This three-year training forms the basis for state-approved environmental technology experts. The training prepares the candidate for technician level jobs (independent planning, implementation and monitoring in the context of the intended occupation).

Following the three years of vocational education, the candidate can go for further training as a "Meister" (master craftsman). This additional education includes theoretical and practical training in the craft as well as business and legal training and involves the qualification to be allowed to train apprentices. The examination for Masters course is regulated by an Ordinance on the Approved Examination for Certified Master for Circular Economy and waste management and City Cleaning’. This training prepares the candidate for manager level jobs.

Among many others, The SBG Dresden (Saxon Education Company for Environmental Protection and Chemical Occupations Dresden ltd.) is one such private, a non-profit educational institution which provides vocational training and further education under the German dual system in the federal state of Saxony in Germany. The educational company co-operates with industries, service providers and public utilities who employ the apprentices for the training-on-the-job component.

For accreditation of VET - the German federal government is the overall accreditation body, with centres of expertise or certification agencies at the regional level. The main awarding body is the local chamber of commerce. Quality assurance is overseen by local agencies certified by the German Federal Employment Agency. German institutions are also active in the European Quality Assurance in Vocational Education and Training (EQAVET), a community of practice bringing together the EU Member States, the Social Partners and the European Commission to develop and improve quality assurance in European VET systems within the context of the implementation of the European Quality Assurance Reference Framework.

Academic Courses for Waste management

At the academic level, WM in Germany is taught as a specialised subject in Bachelors of Engineering and at Masters Level as Masters of Science (M.Sc.) or Engineering programs (as part of Environmental or Civil Engineering). Such courses are offered by Technical University Braunschweig, Leibniz Universität Hannover, RWTH Aachen, Westphalian University of Applied Sciences, Bauhaus Universität Weimar, University of Rostock, University of Stuttgart, Clausthal University of Technology, etc. The waste and resource management department at Technical University Braunschweig is also a member of CREED (Centre for Research, Education and Demonstration in WM) for research and education. CREED offers practice-oriented, hands-on training opportunity to international experts and stakeholders to experience several WM technologies.

Additionally, some universities offer more specific courses relevant for professionals. For example, Magdeburg-Stendal University of Applied Sciences offers Bachelors in Eng. in Recycling and Disposal Management, Technische Universität Dresden offers an M.Sc. in Waste Management and Contaminated Sites (only in German) and Leibniz Universität Hannover offers an M.Sc. in Water and Environment (WATENV).

International transfer of knowledge/skills in resource efficiency and waste management from Germany

Case Study 1:

German government (specifically the Federal Ministry of Environment, Nature Protection and Nuclear Safety, BMU) in collaboration with Technische Universität Dresden took an important initiative for knowledge and skill transfer in SWM sector. Established in 1977, CIPSEM (Centre for International Postgraduate Studies of Environmental Management) offers a range of Integrated Environmental Management Courses for environmental protection. In the year2017, CIPSEM offered a 4-week specialised course on Resource Efficiency - Cleaner Production and Waste Management (RECPWM) from Nov. 15 - Dec. 08, 2017. The course program was targeted at capacity building of professionals from developing countries and emerging economies to gain and strengthen their competencies in waste management and resource efficiency. The course offered an opportunity for experiential learning and interaction with international experts and stakeholders working in the waste sector in Germany.

CIPSEM course content & excursions

CIPSEM course content & excursions

The course was attended by 23 professionals from Asia (35%), Africa (35%), Latin America (26%) and Europe (4%). The majority of participants were full-time permanent employees in their respective countries and took a temporary release to attend this course. A large number of them work with governments (48%), others with environmental research organisations (39%), NGOs and consulting companies (13%). The course content was developed based on training needs arising from national or international context and covers a variety of subjects. Interaction with experts and faculty from different organisations, group activities and excursions helped to readily absorb the theoretical concepts taught in the class. The interactive nature of the training also helped to visualise the scale of infrastructure, operations and to understand successes and challenges faced by practitioners in WM. The participants have access to an online portal where all course content and contact details of experts are shared and feedbacks are recorded for all the presentations. This provides participants with the flexibility to access the course content irrespective of time and location and facilitates networking with relevant experts once the course is finished. The course is organised once in every two years and the next course will be organised in 2019. 

To take lessons learned from course to the ground (every-day working environment), every participant presented a post-training action plan. Most of the participants acknowledged the need of integrating the concept of circular economy and resource efficiency in national policies and wanted to share it with their respective organisations. The participants from research institutions expressed interest in using life cycle assessment (LCA) and systemic thinking as research tools in their professions and showcased plans to develop collaborative research projects for waste management with each other. Participants from government organisations had the plans to share their learnings and recommendations with government colleagues in the form of training reports from the course, by writing recommendation letters to concerned authorities or by developing outreach pilot projects and e-learning educational programs with communities and schools. The participants also acknowledged the other benefits of the training program – cross-cultural exchange, upgradation of their existing knowledge, recognition and respect among their colleagues, networking opportunities, motivation to try new tools and techniques in their projects and personal inspiration to perform better in their professions. All participants were awarded a Certificate of Proficiency in RECPWM which would not just be an additional professional recognition but also a remembrance of memories gathered in the course.

CIPSEM 73rd UNEP /UNESCO/BMUB Course Award Ceremony showing participants from 

CIPSEM 73rd UNEP /UNESCO/BMUB Course Award Ceremony showing participants from 

Case Study 2

The Institute of Sanitary Engineering and Waste Management (ISAH) at Leibniz Universität Hannover, Germany, offers an M.Sc. in Water resource and environmental management (WATENV) exclusively in English with a special focus on MSW Management. Until now, eight Indian M.Sc.’s have received a WATENV degree from ISAH and elaborated their Master thesis projects related to MSW management in India. ISAH has been involved in various scientific research, knowledge transfer and capacity building projects with research institutes and industries across India.

In an Indo-German R&D project called RESERVES, ISAH is helping utilize two unused streams i.e. vegetable and flower market waste for the production of biogas and fertilizer in Chennai. A plant prototype for biogas production has been developed under this project where the operating personnel and staff at Central Leather Research Institute (CLRI) and Ramky were given a week-long training on waste handling and plant operation. Similarly, as part of research projects in Bangalore (2014), Dr Dirk Weichgrebe, Head of waste management division at ISAH, provided training workshops on waste characterization, collection and treatment (including sludge management concepts) to all the facility managers and operators of waste and wastewater plants. The training was attended by more than 100 students and sanitation professionals from West Zone Bangalore, Electronic City (ELCITA) and Infosys. Alongside, there has been a continuous exchange of students, researchers and Professors from Germany and India as part of these projects. The conferences and workshops on various WM topics have been held both in research institutes such CLRI and in industries like Infosys Ltd. Several delegations from India have visited waste treatment plants in Germany to understand the state-of-the-art technologies.

This year, ISAH also hosted an International Climate Protection fellow, Ms Shivali Sugandh, from India to support the global concern of Climate Change and Resource Conservation. The fellowship is offered by Alexander von Humboldt (AVH) Foundation as part of Climate-KIC, Europe's largest public-private innovation partnership focused on climate innovation to mitigate and adapt to climate change. As part of this project, Shivali is developing an understanding of waste management practices in Germany (including technology) which can be adapted for India for improving the status of MSW management. This research also intends to strengthen collaborations, knowledge and technology transfer between both the countries.


Waste management in developing countries requires shifting from conventional practices to more resource efficient, participatory and locally developed/adapted advanced systems. Capacity building through education and skill training is key to bring such a shift as technologies from developed countries require appropriate modifications and adaptation to local condition, if they are to succeed. Continuous efforts are needed to build new capacities (local authorities, industries, NGOs and informal sector) as well as to upgrade the existing knowledge base with changing needs of the market. Along with training content, the training process needs equal attention so that the sound knowledge gained by trainees is implemented in a meaningful manner. The capacity building, therefore, should be a systematic and long-term process with adequate interaction, experiential and hands-on learning, problem-solving and post-mentoring support. The training should be able to link academic education with industrial demand and be certified based on skill and competency gained by individuals. Higher education institutions, private and government industrial training institutes, vocational education and training institutions have a key responsibility in bridging this gap. Such trainings are increasingly being recognised by the international community but also need to be scaled at national, regional and local levels in developing countries, where they are most needed. While local problems can be solved by local resources and training, new problems need more advanced knowledge and concept building. This requires leveraging from globalisation and making institutions more porous through collaborations and exchange. There are diverse national and international organisations and projects which serve such knowledge transfer and exchange. It is high time that Indian organisations expand their reaches across borders and support internationalisation of education and skill building in waste management too. Additionally, India can leverage its demographic dividend from such capacity building initiatives and serve the skill shortage in this sector in other developed nations. This ought to be a win-win situation for both the countries.

Thank you.

Author: Shivali Sugandh

Edited by:

PD Dr Ing. Habil. Dr Weichgrebe, Division Manager Waste Management, Material Flow Management and Anaerobic Processes, Institute for Urban Water Management and Waste Management

Dr Anna Görner, Course Director, Centre for International Postgraduate Studies of Environmental Management