Saturday, January 29, 2011

Recycling madness

I had heard so many stories about how seriously recycling was taken in Germany that I was expecting a magical and well-oiled system. The reality was . . . absurdly complicated.

The recycling program was first introduced to me when I was in Schwäbisch Hall – in the residence, there was a sign over the recycling bag explaining essentially that tetrapaks and items marked with the special recycling symbol could go in. Bottles were supposed to go back to the store for a refund. I was very literal, and didn't recycle anything because absolutely nothing I bought was marked with the symbol.

When I moved to Stuttgart, I was forced to switch grocery stores and therefore brands. I discovered that a few companies did indeed label packaging with the recycling symbol, and if I thought about it logically, almost everything could be recycled (if yogurt container A has a recycling symbol and B doesn't, they're probably both recyclable because they're made of the same kind of plastic. Are the lids recyclable? Still haven't figured that one out). It turned out the whole symbol system was totally misleading, because aside from failure to label most items that can be recycled, some of the items labeled with the symbol are not recyclable using the same system (e.g., glass, which has to be sorted by colour and dropped off separately at inconvenient and distant drop boxes scattered throughout the city). After I had lived in Stuttgart for almost two months, the city finally sent everyone a brochure explaining how recycling worked along with the pickup schedule. It is still a mystery to me where one might purchase the magical plastic bags recyclables are supposed to be put into. Not the grocery store, the convenience store or the drugstore – I spent a lot of time looking. Probably somewhere far away with very bad hours. Luckily I inherited a small supply when I moved in to my new place after Christmas.

Some questions that really puzzle me are A) why they don't give everyone the educational brochure and schedule when they first move in? All foreigners have to register with the city upon the first week of arrival anyways; it would be awesome to get some useful information at the same time. Possibly a stash of the Official Yellow bags too; B) it clearly is not law that all recyclable packaging has to be labeled with the symbol. Since Germany is quite enthusiastic about legislation, from what I've seen, this seems like a bit of a no-brainer.

Who knew household waste was so complicated?

View from my office before the snow melted

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