Recycling in Germany

Orange-box-recycling Germans already recycle like crazy. They have a yellow bin for packaging materials, a brown bin for compostables, a blue bin for paper, a white glass bin, a colored glass bin, and a grey bin for the rest of the trash.

Now, they are adding an orange bin for toys, electronic devices, old pots and pans, and even furniture. 

Would lazy Americans ever agree to recycle like the Germans? 


16 thoughts on “Recycling in Germany

  1. I would LOVE this- right now there are so many toys etc that I don’t know what to do with.(too broken or crappy to donate but hate to just throw them in the garbage to fill the landfill) I would love to have a way to recycle them! And while we are lazy, how is it harder to put a toy or electronic item in a recycle bin compared to the garbage?

  2. We have a blue bin – plastic, glass, paper, metal – which is sorted at the plant; a green bin (compostables including bones and meat and diapers), and this year they added a bag for a one-time electronics pickup. We also have the toxics truck ( you call 1-2 times a year) and environment day when you can bring your toxics/electronics/donatable stuff in).
    It’s not hard to adjust. One huge incentive for green bin use is that garbage only gets picked up every other week while green bin is every week. Garbage is limited – you pay an annual fee based on bin size, or buy tags for extra bags) but none of the recycling is.
    This is in Toronto. We have a massive “where goes the garbage” issue.

  3. Here’s a discussion of recycling and how (with the exception of metals, which are actually valuable), recycling is largely wasteful theater for the benefit of the naive and hyper-conscientious. (To be fair, the math might work out differently in a dense European country.) Some huge percentage of the stuff we put into recycling goes straight to the landfill.
    When I visited my sister in Bavaria, their recycling rules were very hard to master (not that I was trying that hard–my brain was fully engaged by reading Gorky’s Mother for my MA exams). It was such a relief to move on to Austria, where they weren’t nearly so OCD about recycling. (The Bavarian public trash cans literally had six slots.) I think I actually left Germany with at least some garbage in my suitcase because I was so cowed by the complexities of their system.
    I read the recycling article and I don’t get what happens to the items in the new bin. That category (toys, pots and pans, electronics) seems suitable for reuse more than recycling, but they don’t explain what they do with the stuff. It seems to me that there would be many weeks when you wouldn’t have anything to put in that box. In my household, I keep a large cardboard box in my closet labeled “Craigslist.” When it fills up, we sell the more valuable items on ebay or Craigslist, give some items away on Craigslist (like toys and stuffed animals) and then take the remainder to Goodwill. I’ve currently got a First Communion dress and a Mexican dance performance skirt to sell, and I sell used school uniform items (you pin an envelope to the garment with your price, send it to school and eventually the envelope comes back to you with money). Of course, my system works best with a large American-style home and a car.
    Now that graduation is over, the dumpsters at student housing are overflowing with various useful items. So far, just walking around, I’ve seen two different sets of people scavenging. The first was a fairly middle class black guy and he was studying a pan with a very professional eye. He gave me a hearty, unembarrassed “Hello!” The second sighting was a minivan load of moms and kids. I didn’t get a good head count, because I was trying not to stare. The scavengers would have found the German system simplified their work quite a bit, but I’m not sure you can depend on scrupulous sorting from undergraduates at move-out time.

  4. The most lingering item in my Craigslist box is about a dozen Russian books that I culled from my collection. Eventually, I need to type up a list of the books and email it to the local Russian professors. There’s no point in giving those to Goodwill or the public library, because they’d go straight in the trash. (Although, now that I think of it, the college library might be interested.)
    I’ve got an elephant costume that I’m about to email my neighbors with preschool kids about. A week or two ago, I sold a large play tent for the kids for $10 to a neighborhood family. They each got $5, I got my living room back, and I haven’t heard a word of regret from the kids.

  5. Austin is throwing a lot of effort into a “zero waste” target. I hate it: in an area with abundant, cheap land that’s geologically appropriate for landfill use, we’re spending money (and perhaps worse, political capital) on this instead of dealing with our water issues.
    I read “Rubbish” a year ago and got this insight from the book: if you care about recycling, you’re far more effective consuming goods made from recycled paper than pitching paper into a recycling bin instead of a trash can.

  6. “… in an area with abundant, cheap land that’s geologically appropriate for landfill use, we’re spending money (and perhaps worse, political capital) on this instead of dealing with our water issues.”
    There does seem to be a water conservation/recycling trade off. Our family was dealing with a water bill mystery past week (it was about $90 higher than it should have been) and during the course of the investigation, my husband discovered that just washing hands takes a gallon of water. I hate to think how much water MH would have used to wash that peanut butter jar.

  7. We have to wash the recycling fairly well because it only gets collected every other week and because there are mice around and I hate to deal with mouse-laden glue traps. That little eye keeps staring at me as if to say, “I only wanted a warm place to stay.”
    Nearly all of my neighbors now put out recycling, but eight years ago it was mostly us and a couple of other younger people.

  8. Growing up, we had a recycling system about as complicated as the Germans, though that was house-internal and set up by my mother. (I don’t want to support stereotypes, but there is something to that Northern European love of order). Portland the city had a 3 way sorting system, with a glass/metal/plastic bin, a paper bin, and a yard waste bin. Before we had curbside recycling, my mother would take it to a recycling center. (Because 80s Portland was secretly the 50s, we used to get milk in glass bottles of milk when I was little, and then my mother would return the empty bottles to wherever they came from. I have some early memories of playing with the metal bottle caps while my mother got the milk bottles ready.) Growing up doing it, I now find putting something that is recycleable in the trash physically painful. Currently our landlord doesn’t pay for recycling, so we sneak it into the neighbor’s bin. (Chicago is single sort). Hopefully helping the environment outweighs free-loading in the giant book of karma.

  9. When I was little, we used to get soda in returnable bottles. And a milkman brought milk to us, but that was in paper cartons. And when I was in college, we used to get Old Milwaukee in the returnable bottles. Those were (are?) not just returnable bottles, but the cases were backed in extra sturdy boxes that we used as furniture. At the end of the year, we returned the coffee table to pay for a party.

    I learned to do that, so it is possible. (And, hah, Germany has nothing on Yokohama! I had to cut the buttons off my shirts to put them out for collection.)
    It was hard, however, to come back to the US and then move to an area with no recycling pick-up. I found a place to handle everything but paper, which I drive to the office to put in their recycling regularly.

  11. In Qingdao China, there is a huge market for recyclables and junk. Poor people comb through the garbage looking for things like scrap metal, paper, etc. that they can sell. There’s also a bottle deposit, so sometimes merchants who sell you drinks like beer or coke pour it into a plastic bag so they can keep the bottle (they give you a straw to drink it with). If you insist on getting the bottle, they raise the price. My friends and I used to buy beer from the same woman who ran a little store by the beach, and after awhile we convinced her that we would bring the bottles back, so she sold us beer in the bottles at regular price, and then when we went to get more we’d bring back the returns. We’d also get empty bottles that other people had left behind on the beach, so she was pretty happy with us. (We also got her to put some beer in with the ice cream so it would be cold when we bought it, unlike the normal warm beer Chinese people seem to prefer.)

  12. We moved from Germany to Moldova some months back and we are still appalled by the amount of trash we produce. After recycling and compost, we had one small bag trash per week for a family of six. Here, with no recycling and the need to buy bottled water for drinking (and no re-using system for glass/plastic bottles as in Germany), our trash overflows regularly. We miss recycling (or, as it’s called in Germany, “trash separation”).

  13. Speaking of garbage, I was surprised to discover that a lot of Russians seemed to use the toilet as a garbage disposal. Tea leaves seemed a pretty safe thing to flush, but I also saw people doing it with potato peelings.

  14. I don’t subscribe to this point of view.
    It would be such an ignorant thing to do.
    If the Russians love their plumbers too.

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