'Extreme' recycling is hot

Monday, May 19, 2008

Lawrence County may be proud of recycling 35 percent of its household waste, but they have a long way to go to catch up with the Germans, who recycle an amazing 75 percent. In the state of Bavaria, this is estimated to work out at 708 pounds per person per year.

People started sorting their household garbage into four color-coded containers as long ago as 1991, when the national recycling company was set up.

The green bin takes paper and cardboard; the yellow one is for plastic, plus milk cartons, cans, and polystyrene. There is a brown bin for stuff that's biodegradable and finally, a black bin for the unrecyclables, like disposable diapers, fish bones and meat scraps. Grocery stores are required to take back bottles and cans marked for recycling, and for the non-returnable glass there are "bottle banks" in many parking lots.

Unwanted household items, like an old frying pan or a broken hairdryer, don't go in the black bin. They are "recyclable bulk waste" and can be taken to the local recycling center or left out for a scheduled curbside pickup. Second-hand dealers are allowed to take anything they like from items put out at curbside so what they collect may end up being sold at a flea market.

"Household hazardous waste," like insecticides or cleaning products, can be taken to the local fire station every fourth Friday.

German children start learning to recycle in kindergarten. Older students are led toward environmental responsibility with classes on global warming, the dangers of deforestation, and energy-saving tips forming a regular part of the curriculum.

Environmental sins are now so rare in Germany that they make the local news, and neighbors are more than willing to correct a newcomer who puts recyclables in the wrong bin.

Germany is a small, crowded (by American standards) country whose citizens have a reputation for being obsessively neat and clean, so perhaps it was easy for them to learn this "extreme recycling." However, there is no reason we could not do just as well, if we really put our minds to it.