Cleaning the Trash

Germany is known for its green attitude towards the environment and recycling. It is a leader in wind and solar energy, and has an excellent public transportation system which keeps many of us off the roads. There are also many recycling programs, with machines that collect recyclable bottles, and pay back deposits in many grocery stores. The recycling extends even into the household where we separate, clean, and collect various kinds of trash.

Yesterday a great mystery was solved from me when we received the newsletter from the local government’s garbage collection company. Besides finding out that they have a Ph.D., Dr. Thomas Hess, running the garbage company, I found out how many kinds of trash there are. Ever since I was assigned an office with three different trash cans (one for packaging, one for paper, and a third for “the rest”), I have wondered how many types of trash there are in Germany. The brochure answered the question for me. There are eight general types of trash, all collected by the garbage company on different schedules. Besides the three already mentioned, there is bio-degradable trash, garden wastes, metal waste, big stuff (e.g. furniture) waste, and other waste. In addition, there is that aggressive recycling program for plastic bottles which carry hefty deposits, and need to be taken back to the grocery store. Tires, batteries, and other potentially toxic products are outside these categories.

The most interesting trash is the “yellow sack.” We get a fixed number of yellow trash bags to put our packaging in (extra sacks cost more), which is a mix of milk cartons, plastic packaging for consumer items, old yoghurt containers, and trash containing other types of food. This trash is picked up only once per month, and so we always make a point of washing it out so it will not stink (imagine an dirty yoghurt container in the trash for 30 days?). Some of my German friends question whether given that we all wash the trash, we use more water than we save by recycling, but I will leave that question to Dr. Hess.