Posts Tagged ‘What’s Done Right’

What’s Done Right–Garbage!

Anyone who is remotely familiar with the the garbage/recycling system in Germany can’t deny that it is, well…thorough.  Really, really thorough.  And admittedly it can seem incredibly overwhelming and sometimes absurd, but the complications of the system are so entirely overridden by the benefits, that Russ and I have really come to appreciate how socially responsible it is.  In general, we’ve really found that people here have a higher sense of what it means to be a “community,” not so much in the sense of striking up friendly conversations with people (which Germans pretty much don’t do), but more in the sense of feeling a responsibility to take care of things that others also share.  Like…the Earth!  Hence, recycling. And it has really worked here.  Germany entices companies to use as little packaging on their products as possible; the more they use, they more they pay.  And this little change has drastically reduced the tons of garbage produced in a year (about one million fewer!).

So when it comes down to it, basically every trash item that possibly could be reused in Germany is reused.  Everything that’s not recyclable either becomes compost or is incinerated.  But the majority of the work is up to the individual home dweller.  Let’s start with bottles.

Bottles are available in Germany with or without a “Pfand.”  Bottles with a Pfand mean that you can return them to the store to get a deposit back.  Beer bottles can be returned for 7¢ and all other bottles for 15 or 25¢.  Some states in the US do this, also; Russ was used to this, but I wasn’t.  It’s kind of fun to take bottles to the store and get 5  bucks off your purchase.  It feels free! (almost!).

Glass bottles do not have refunds.  Instead, you must take them to a special location (there is usually one in every neighborhood).  Be careful, though.  Brown goes in one bin; green in another; and clear in the last.

Things get a little more complicated when you’re at home.  Basically, there are four trash receptacles in every home.  I’d be more than happy to color-code for you.

Trash cans--you're welcome, in advance, for my amazing graphics

It really doesn’t seem that complicated until you start cooking dinner and have to figure out where to put things.  Any type of food scraps, egg shells, coffee grounds, etc. gets tossed in the brown BIO bin.  You want to put anything in the BIO bin that would be a good addition to a compost pile, including garden scraps and paper towels. And guess what–this stuff does actually get used for compost in gardens or energy is captured through the fermenting gasses. Lots of people in Germany who own homes maintain their own compost pile.  You must pay for the weight of your garbage here; another measure that has really made people think about how much trash they are producing.

The yellow bin (ok, it’s actually just a plastic yellow bag called the Gelb Sack), is for anything that is composite material like plastic or tins.  Here is space for empty yogurt containers, milk cartons, plastic wraps, shampoo bottles, and cans.  This stuff literally gets sorted later by hand so it’s best (and nicest) to rinse containers thoroughly.

The blue bin is for paper and cardboard only.  Pretty self explanatory.  Sift out your mail, school papers, directions in packaging, toilet paper tubing, and set this aside.

The last bin is for everything that hasn’t been mentioned.  Remember that all things glass go in the neighborhood receptacles…except for light bulbs.  Put them in this gray container along with household dirt, personal hygiene waste, wires, old toys, tooth brushes, leather, cat litter, etc. All this stuff is incinerated.

Abiding by this system is required in Germany, and while there are some people who try to take advantage of it (like by dumping their BIO in the woods so they don’t have to pay for its weight), it is generally thought of to be a good way to contribute to the preservation of the Earth.  Each neighborhood has a garbage schedule that details which container will be emptied and when.  On gelb sack days, yellow bags line the streets until they are swiftly picked up by the garbage company.

Now that I’ve given you a tutorial on garbage in Germany, there should be no questions when you come to visit. 🙂 Riiiight.

To test yourself, try thinking about disposing of these examples below.  Remember to separate the items based on the categories above. You can post what you think the correct answers are if you are so inclined.  Remember, I want you to think about the item as if you are grabbing it from the cupboard–packaging and all!  Good luck!


1.  You’d like a cup of tea.  What waste will you have and where will it go when you are finished?


2. Chomp!  Chomp! Chomp!  Chewing gum, fresh from a new package.


3. Challenge: Dinnertime!  You’ve cooked spaghetti and meatballs with store-bought sauce.  You’ve had a bottle of wine; the kids finished off the milk; the cookies for dessert produced a lot of crumbs; and sauce spilled all over the place mats (it’s impossible to save them).



On a side note, it’s sad to think of all the things we could be doing in the US that we aren’t doing.  Many people still don’t even recycle.  I’m not saying that we need to completely adapt a system like Germany’s. (I canalready hear the protests starting on how government shouldn’t tell people how to run their lives).  However, I think it’s important to compare our system to Germany’s and see how lacking it actually is.  Baby steps?