Three Things. #3: Recycling

My college dorm floor in Germany had endless bins squeezed under one of the counters, and each one held something different– foil, plastic, paper, glass, food scraps, you name it. The smallest bin at the end was for actual trash, the kind that would end up in a landfill. Nineteen people lived on that floor and we filled that small bin once a week. I watched in awe the people who were charged with “Muelldienst” (trash duty) as they briskly checked, sorted, lifted, and disposed of the various recyclable items.

Not much has changed in ten years. Our apartment building has three large bins stashed out front: one for paper, one for food scraps and organic matter, and the last for trash. The glass sorting box is just down the street. And twice a month, we collect all of our plastic, foil, and other packaging materials and stuff them in a “Gelbe Sack” that gets whisked away by more recycling trucks.

I know recycling is big in the U.S. now too; glass, paper, and tin are no-brainers. However, there are two major improvements in the German system that ease my conscience: first, the organic matter bin (while food scraps and old leaves are compost-friendly, they fester in landfills); and second, the all-encompassing plastic recycling. All of those weird plastics– the number 4’s, the number 5’s, the number 7’s, and so on– get recycled. No more guilt over throwing yogurt containers away because I’ve already reused as many as I can. Just stick them in that Gelbe Sack!

Bottom line: recycling is easy here. You practically trip over those containers every day; its harder not to use them. Sorting in the kitchen is no trouble. Everyone else is doing it; it’s a community effort. A decade later, I’m glad I still have reason to stand in awe before recycling bins!

**UPDATE, September 13th: A friend in Northern Michigan tells me that Charlevoix County has just started accepting ALL plastics for recycling! And my mother says Michigan State University does the same. Way to go, Michigan, and keep up the good work!


4 thoughts on “Three Things. #3: Recycling

  1. That’s awesome that they take the food scraps. I never even heard of doing that – well short of what you can put into the composting bin. Where I am now has one big recycling bin (the size of the other trash bin) that you put ALL recyclables – all plastics, paper, aluminum, etc. Once we got that, it was MUCH easier to recycle since we didn’t have to sort as much. Baby steps!

    1. That’s great, Ashley! I think in general, the simpler they make it, the better. People have good hearts and intentions, but we’re still often more likely to do what’s easy.

  2. Hello Sarah
    In reading your blogs it becomes clear that your integration process is proceeding well, I am glad.
    Did you have a chance yet to go to the Stuttgarter Volksfest (the local version of the Oktoberfest)? Try the food (Rote Wurst is recommended).

    Best wishes

    1. Hi Hans! The weather was quite awful last weekend, but we plan to go to Bad Canstatt for the Volksfest either this weekend or next (it’s quite easy to the the U-Bahn there from where we live in Moehringen). I will let you know how it goes! Thank you for the Rote Wurst recommendation!

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