Can Germans Organize Waste Even More?

17 05 2011

The orange box brings the number of recycling streams to six in Germany photo
Image: BSR

Germany deserves its reputation as a leader in recycling. Why? In part due to a motivated populace, in part due to a focus on ease of use, and public policy as well as pricing structures targetted to encourage recycling. But when the Berlin Waste Management company, BSR, evaluated the contents of the grey containers collecting everything left over from the five sorted stream containers already in use, they found a goodly quantity of valuable materials that could be recycled slipping through their net. The answer: yet another container to separate the best from the rest.

Now when Berliners walk out to the trash cans, they find an orange bin next to

  • the yellow bin for packaging materials,
  • the brown bin for compostables,
  • the blue bin for paper,
  • the white glass bin,
  • the colored glass bin, and
  • the grey bin for the rest of the trash.


The goal: to collect 17kg more per person per year of junk separated for recycling. So, with so many recycling options already in place, what is left?

Where iPods Go to Die
The BSR has always collected the left-overs for recycling at widely distributed neighborhood waste collection centers. But the inconvenience meant that toys, metal objects like cooking pans, small electrical and electronic equipment, non-packaging plastic objects, old clothing and textiles, and wooden items often landed in the grey waste bin. Sure, that means paying for the disposal instead of a free drop-off at the recycling center — but laziness wins out all too often.

In addition to the orange box, the service offers “orange corners” where people can drop off bulky items like old furniture that is no longer in use. The orange corner offers an opportunity for neighbors to come by and pick up still-useful items that catch their eye. Anything remaining in the orange corner will be hauled off periodically.

The Savings Strategy?
The BSR calculated disposal rates for the new orange boxes to provide an incentive for their use. The idea requires diverting enough waste out of the grey bins to reduce the collection frequency.

Citizen groups see it another way though: they calculate most buildings will not be able to reduce the number of grey bins, resulting in the orange bin becoming a pure added cost option. They are probably correct. Our building, for example, gets by with only one large grey wheeled waste bin. It is unlikely that the orange bin can collect enough trash to make the significant jump down to a smaller waste trolley.

Would You Do the Right Thing?
But many Germans are highly committed to doing the right thing for the environment. The success of the orange box will ultimately rely on that altruistic motivation. What do you think? Would you be prepared to pay for the convenience of avoiding a trip to the recycling center to “do the right thing”?




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