When I was flying to Germany over winter break I was expecting to encounter the land of beer, techno music, and BMW’s (and I certainly encountered all of the aforementioned several times), but what I did not expect was a recycling system that environmentalists in the states could only dream of.
Before I start, it’s important to note that German families love recycling. I spent two weeks in a German family’s home and we spent many a day frolicking around the streets looking for refuse. All Germans have five different, color-coded “garbage” cans that they set in front of their house, similar to what your garbage man picks up here, only one-third of the size. Each color corresponds with what each family must (emphasis on “must”) put into it. Green is for paper; yellow is for plastic (and all products in grocery stores that contain plastic have a convenient green dot on them); brown is for compost; and black for anything else, such as tissues, leftovers, and toiletries.
For glass there are several containers around the city for Germans to deposit green, brown, and clear glass — think of our recycling center, only in multiple locations. Residents can give beer and other glass bottles to any supermarket and receive €.25 for each one. The store sends them to their respective companies that refill them. Certain plastic bottles are also available for the same refund, but most of these are recycled instead of being refilled.
I also discovered that Germans even made the diameter of the holes in the tops of their McFlurry cups at McDonalds smaller because when people threw away them in the street hedgehogs crawled into the cup at night, got stuck, and died. I don’t know if this is what prompted Germany to institute such an extensive recycling system, but Germans intimate relationship with their waste stream suggests that it’s the throw-away consumer culture of the U.S. that needs recycling.