Now that the Christmas and New Year's truce have passed, the ``great garbage war'' will resume. Oddly enough, the struggle does not pit East against West Germany. The former is more than happy to take the latter's toxic wastes, for a fee, and add them to one of the most polluted landscapes in Europe.
Instead, the battle rages between the picturesque Hanseatic city of L"ubeck and its fellow West Germans. L"ubeck is only three miles from the East-West German border and therefore from Europe's largest dump, which opened in Sch"onberg, East Germany in the late 1970s. Toxic dumps, like nuclear plants, tend to gravitate to frontier areas where the neighboring country's citizens cannot give political punch to any protests.
L"ubeck may not be able to complain to East Germany, or to Italy, France, and Belgium, which also send hazardous waste to Sch"onberg - which, ironically, means ``beautiful mountain.'' But it is taking the unusual step of suing every West German state that uses Sch"onberg in an attempt to halt the 290 truckloads of poisonous waste that cross L"ubeck's streets daily and, officials fear, could foul the city water supply. So far L"ubeck has won temporary injunctions against the states of Hesse and Schleswig-Holstein, on the grounds that West and East Germany have never worked out binding conditions for the Sch"onberg dump that would meet West Germany's mandatory waste-disposal standards.
The suit against Hamburg, which produces half of the yearly 1 million tons of industrial and household refuse that go to Sch"onberg, is still pending. L"ubeck will soon seek injunctions against West Berlin and six other West German states. The only state not to be brought to court is Bavaria, which does not send hazardous waste to Sch"onberg.
In its quest, L"ubeck is not backed by the legislature in its own state of Schleswig-Holstein. Last month a special committee gave the Sch"onberg dump a clean bill of health, saying that an impermeable, 160-meter thick layer of gravel and clay adequately prevents leakage of sewage from the 500-acre site into the water table.
The minority Social Democrats boycotted the committee, however, and L"ubeck's Social Democratic city hall is less than pacified by the conservatives's report. L"ubeck's Senator (minister) for Internal Affairs Egon Hilpert insists that the dumping must be stopped until it is proved that there is no threat to L"ubeck's water.
More broadly viewed, the problem of L"ubeck is the problem of all of West Germany, is one of the most prodigious producers of toxic waste in Europe. In the latest figures available, West Germany turned out almost 5 million tons of ``special waste'' in 1983, according to a secret report by the Federal Environment Ministry that the environmentalist Greens party acquired and publicized last month. This quantity, the Greens contend, exceeds by far the capacity to detoxify or safely bury it, and more than 1 million tons of it are disposed of yearly in ways that are not officially recorded or known.
West Germany accounts for a fifth of Europe's hazardous waste, says the Organization of Economic Cooperation and Development. Though Europe produces less than a tenth of North America's output, it has to get rid of the poison in a much smaller and more populous area.