PORTLAND, Oregon — Waste is something we produce every day without giving much thought to it. Local waste management companies dispose of the waste that we collect in designated bins each week. After that, many do not consider where the trash goes. As we become more considerate of reducing waste, Germany’s waste management program is an excellent example of how a country can successfully use recycling to promote more sustainable practices.
Recycling and Waste in Germany
The framework for Germany’s recycling program originated in the 19th century. At first, the program was designed for simple waste disposal and evolved into the advanced waste management system they use today. The waste disposal system successfully lessened diseases like cholera and promoted proper hygiene. With the correlation between waste and health becoming clear, the German government introduced a new law to enforce drainage. The 1972 Waste Disposal Act has been adjusted since then to become the current Waste Management Act. The Waste Management Act has been organized into a 5-level waste system that uses waste prevention, reusing, recycling, energy recovery and waste disposal. As a result, Germany reduces its environmental impact by systematically minimizing waste and maximizing recycling.
Recycling in Action
Germany’s recycling program has led to the creation of a comprehensive system for sorting waste. First, glass is sorted into bins based on color. Then, blue bins are used for paper, and yellow for plastic. Finally, brown bins are used for compost, and gray or black bins for almost everything else. Many people use reusable bags and containers to avoid the hassle of sorting waste. Each color bin is collected at designated times throughout the month. Before the waste even meets these bins, however, manufacturers pay the Green Dot fee, which discourages excessive packaging from entering households.
The impact of this system is crystal clear. According to Germany’s Federal Statistics Office, out of 402.2 metric million tons of waste produced in 2015, 317.7 million metric tons were recycled. With recycling technology only getting better, it’s likely that those numbers will continue to increase. Germany leads the EU in recycling with 66.1% of its municipal waste recycled. While Germany was a bit behind on renewable energy it more than doubled its goal of 20% in 2020, with 46.6% of energy coming from renewable energy. Compared to the U.S.’s 12%, it is an impressive number.
Waste and Poverty
Poor waste management systems in developing and developed countries alike not only affect the environment but also perpetuate cycles of poverty. When waste is not properly disposed it pollutes sources of food and water. Dumping and burning trash is often unregulated, leading to poor health outcomes and even worse poverty for those around the areas. Although it is not favorable to live next to a dumpsite, it can be the only place many can afford. Mountains of unsorted trash are the only source of income for many families. Ultimately, inclusive waste management policies can help to lift vulnerable populations out of poverty.
Solutions for Now
It is clear that Germany has been highly successful in its efforts to recycle. Through strong government policies, it has managed to turn trash into treasure, positively affecting Germany’s environment, economy and impoverished populations. If Germany’s methods of recycling are replicated on a national and personal level, many people around the world will experience the benefits.
– Audrey Burran