Recycling in Germany

July 12, 2007 at 2:24 pm

When it comes to recycling and helping to make the environment more sustainable, many European countries including the UK could learn valuable lessons from Germany. The success of Germany’s recycling efforts is largely due to the fact that all levels of society work together to help reduce waste. Manufacturers need to be as pro-active as individual households in order to have an impact.

Starting with manufacturers, the Green Dot system has been invaluable at cutting down waste. The scheme works by making manufacturers and retailers pay for a “Green Dot” on products. When the amount of packaging is increased, the fee is increased as well. This system has resulted in packaging which includes less paper and metal as well as noticeably thinner glass. This makes the individual’s job easier when it comes to recycling, as there is considerably less waste to be recycled. The drastic impact of this scheme is obvious when it is noted that the Green Dot system has resulted in approximately one million tonnes less garbage than usual, every year. People in Germany are actively encouraged only to purchase goods which use the Green Dot system, since this explicitly shows that the manufacturer is helping in the fight to recycle.

The UK government seems to be doing its best to help individual households recycle, by providing different coloured bins. However, many people find this scheme confusing and unclear at best. Furthermore, a green bin in one area can contain items which are disallowed in other areas. In Germany though, the proper sorting of waste is something which everyone is knowledgeable about. The clearly set out instructions regarding which bin to use are easy to follow, for example the green bin accommodates paper, including all packaging made of paper and cardboard. However, items such as tissues belong in the grey bins along with other personal items such as nappies. All of the content in the grey bin will be incinerated.

A further confusion for many UK households is when to put each bin out in front of the house. This is not a problem in Germany though, where special calendars with garbage collection detail on are available from the local registration office or the community newsletter. Indeed, one of the reasons behind Germany’s success at recycling is precisely this community spirit, with everyone working together to help make the country sustainable.

There are some items, however, which need to be discarded but do not belong in any of the colour coded bins. Such items could include a broken TV or a table or chair which is no longer needed. Some of these items can be taken to the local fleamarket but if this seems inappropriate, the items can be left outside the house. The eventual idea is that these items will end up in the rubbish dump but this is in reality, a rare occurrence. Many second hand dealers drive around to inspect the abandoned items and the majority of it is loaded into private vans long before the authorities have a chance to pick it up for the local dump!

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