Germany’s Obsession with Recycling is Paying Off

26.05.2011

This week, Daniel focuses on a pet hate of many foreigners living in Germany - separating rubbish.

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Waste containers: grey for residual waste, blue for paper, yellow for man-made materials (Green Dot) and brown for compostable waste. © Rolf van Melis, pixelio.de

There is often much trumpeting from foreigners living in Germany, and sometimes from Germans themselves, at the tiresomeness of the multi-bin recycling system, with citizens required to separate their waste into paper, man-made materials bearing the ‘Grüner Punkt’ (Green Dot), glass, compostable waste and residual waste.

But what if I have an old t-shirt or pots and pans which I want to get rid of? Voilà! Berlin’s answer to a question almost nobody asked, the Orange Box – bringing the total possible rubbish separation categories to a grand total of six in the capital city.

The reason Germany favours this system, as opposed to the ‘single-stream recycling’ system used in some other countries (the UK included), is apparently to keep down the costs required to run a materials recycling facility which would separate all the materials from a single bin.

Okay, it’s not that bad. Just don’t put the paper into the plastic box. As a Brit I’m just not used to it.

However, what many don’t realise, is that the ‘Fehlwurfquote’, the amount of incorrectly sorted materials, can be as high as fifty percent – leading to further separation and transportation costs or valuable recyclables getting lost in the system. In fact, it would be in some states in Germany not just economically viable, but would actually lead to savings, if all the rubbish were accurately sorted at a single local facility from a single rubbish collection. The costs of introducing such a system would be large, but due to the savings, can be seen as an investment.

I would try to suggest the rubbish collectors, like they do in some counties of the UK, sort the rubbish on the kerbside to make it simpler for residents, but knowing Germany’s attitude towards customer service, this does not seem likely.

Despite the bitching and complaining, Germany has the highest recycling rate in the EU, with close to fifty percent of all municipal waste being recycled. Yes, you do have to separate everything, and on top of that take some of your plastic and glass bottles back to the shop (a further annoyance), but Germany really is setting the trend for environmentally-friendly waste management.

Whatever the costs involved in single or multiple-stream recycling, Germany is certainly doing something right.

Is separating rubbish confusing? Or is it as simple as it is necessary? Get in touch with us below, on Twitter, or our Facebook wall.