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Resource efficiency

Since the supply of raw materials is dwindling, we need to be careful about how we use resources. We take a three-pronged approach: using raw materials as long as possible, recycling as much waste as possible, and using recycled materials.


Recycling waste

By increasing our recycling rate, we are actively encouraging the use of secondary raw materials and reducing the consumption of valuable primary raw materials.

The DB Group generated nearly 13 million metric tons of waste in 2018 and recycled over 98% of it Group-wide. And that's not including thermal use, or waste incineration, which we do not consider recycling and which is not included in the rate.

Waste by disposal type201820172016

Total waste in thousand t

12,807

12,642

12,921

     Recycling rate in %

98

98

97.3

     Percentage of waste incinerated

0.9

0.9

1.4

     Percentage of disposal

1.2

1.1

1.4

Percentage of hazardous waste in the total1)

3.7

3.3

5.1

Excluding DB Arriva. Figures for 2018 are projections based on information and estimates available as of December 2018. 1) As per the waste catalogue regulation ("Abfallverzeichnisverordnung"), for example waste oil.


Recycled rate dominated by construction waste

This high recycling rate is dominated by recycled construction waste from the rail infrastructure, which includes ballast and materials on the ground, such as ties. This type of waste accounts for the largest share, 98%, of our total waste. We manage to achieve an especially high recycling rate for construction waste. In 2018, we returned 98% of removed building materials to the recycling cycle. The remainder consists of scrap, waste oil, municipal solid waste, paper waste, packaging, and electrical waste.

Our challenge in the coming years will be to keep the recycling rate of construction waste high while also increasing the rate in other areas. Municipal solid waste, which in our case refers to waste generated at stations and on trains, is one of the areas we will be focusing on. We want to increase the recycling rate for this type of waste in the coming years.

Volume of waste by type, thousand t201820172016

Total waste

12,807

12,642

12,922

     Construction waste

12,367

12,121

12,400

     Scrap metal

318

378

375

     Electronic scrap

1.5

6.1

4.3

     Municipal solid waste

58

60

70

     Paper

19.1

23.1

25.3

     Waste oil

2

4

6.6

     Other waste 1)

41.5

49.6

40.1

Figures for 2018 are projections based on information and estimates available as of December 2018.

Rounded, excluding DB Arriva. 1) ) Includes paint, varnish, sludge and other maintenance-related waste.

Using recycled materials

We use recycled materials in the infrastructure and at our offices. There is no question that using recycled materials protects resources.


For us, the greatest potential is in materials we need for our rail infrastructure because this is where we use the most materials by far. We use 98% of the materials we need in the infrastructure. But we are also increasingly choosing recycled materials in other areas that are not quite as significant in terms of the amount of waste produced, such as paper.


Recycling in infrastructure  

The track bed needs to be renewed and maintained frequently to safeguard rail operations. We have established a material cycle for ballast, concrete ties and rails. Some 4 to 5 million metric tons of old and worn materials are removed from the network each year, and nearly just as much is returned.

Use of select important materials in the rail infrastructure:

Material use in infrastructure in Germany [thousand metric tons (t)] 1)201820172016
Total material use4,5065,1464,771

-Ballast

3,543

4,105

3,699

       -Percentage of recycled ballast

21

22

11

-Concrete ties

758

824

875

       - Percentage of recycled concrete ties 

10

8

9

-Rail steel

205

217

197

       -Percentage of recycled rail steel

1

1

1) Rounded.



Recycled ballast

Ballast is the most-used material in the infrastructure. When possible, we clean removed ballast and reuse it as recycled ballast. In 2018, around 11% of the roughly 3.7 million metric tons of the ballast we installed was recycled ballast that had previously been removed from another location.

This does not include the 1.5 to 2 million metric tons of ballast annually we clean using mobile ballast cleaners directly on tracks and reuse in the same location.  

We sort out all of the stones we cannot reuse (since not all are recyclable as ballast) and return them to the recycling cycle. They are then used elsewhere, in road construction, for example as rubble or sand.


Concrete ties



Even concrete ties have a limited service life and need to be replaced. We also use old concrete ties, which we recondition, whenever we can. Sleepers that are heavily worn cannot always be reconditioned, which means that our tie use can fluctuate from year to year. We used around 3.5 million concrete ties (740,000 t) in 2018, roughly 10% of which were recycled. As with ballast, we return ties we cannot recondition to the recycling cycle. They are used outside the DB Group.


Rail steel

Steel is a material that can be recycled over and over without loss. Secondary steel accounts for approximately 45% of raw steel production in Germany (Source: Statista). This cuts down considerably on natural resources. Each metric ton of steel and scrap iron used prevents 1.5 metric tons of iron ore from being mined and avoids around 1 metric ton of CO2 emissions.