Recycling in Germany – It’s not about trash
What is recycling? The Oxford dictionary defines ‘to recycle’ as to convert (waste) into reusable material. However, whilst this captures well the concept of recycling, it fails to explain the emotional side of recycling. I am fully aware that this sounds rather strange: an emotional side to recycling?
To explain this, one of my first memories, when thinking about recycling, is playing the German 1982 board game ‘Ene mene Müll’ (Transl.: Eenie meenie trash). The aim of the game was to make sure that all your trash is ready for collection and sorted according to different categories, i.e. glass, paper, residual waste. However, the twist was that the game could only be won if every player managed to prepare the recycling in time.
In retrospective, there are a lot of lessons to be learned, explaining how I feel about recycling: First, recycling rooted in my upbringing and not to recycle valuable resources seems far stranger to me than sorting waste. Second, recycling is a common effort that cannot be ‘won’ alone. We all suffer the negative consequences caused by any individual who does not recycle. Finally, recycling is at the core of the German society. Already in 1982 a family board game existed! Also, it is not surprising for someone to get told off by a strange for not putting the trash in the appropriate recycling bin at a train station or airport: ‘This is paper not plastic!’
The common practice regarding waste collection reflects this, if you do not separate your waste properly, then you do not need to be surprised if your bin does not get collected. Depending on the municipal you live in you can even expect a fine.
It is this combination of recycling being engrained in society for decades now and the willingness of society and policy to defend it as a useful concept that make Germany the world leading ‘recycling nation’, according to Forbes.