WIESBADEN, Germany " The word landfill conjures up images of heaps of trash, rotting garbage and flies.

Not so at the Entsorgungsbetriebe der Landeshauptstadt Wiesbaden " the city’s landfill center " as Hainerberg Elementary School students discovered during a tour May 6.

“It’s great scenery " a lot of great things to see,” said fifth-grader Jordan Tharpe, after learning more about how the center operates its recycling operations. “It’s important not to recycle the wrong things and not to damage the earth.”

As students in Pat Best’s fifth-grade class wandered around a lake full of fish fed by landfill run-off water and climbed a grass and tree-covered landfill mountain where grazing sheep are a common sight they heard descriptions of how refuse is separated, processed and recycled to make new materials and products.

“We want them to learn the importance of sustainability because we only have limited resources,” said Gordon Adam, an environmental technician with the U.S. Army Garrison Wiesbaden Directorate of Public Works Environmental Management Office. “At the ELW they can see how different waste streams are brought here, sorted and disposed of properly.”

“Germany is a leader in recycling,” said Katja Boehle, an environmental scientist (contactor) with the Environmental Division.

During a tour of the facility, Adam described how the landfills originated " all manner of unsorted refuse thrown into giant piles which grew at an alarming rate in the 1960s, ‘70s and ‘80s as more and more consumer products were discarded. “In the past there was no sorting " everything was simply dumped into the landfill with no consideration of gas or water recovery.”

“There was no cradle to grave mindset” when it came to the handling of refuse, said Boehle.

By the end of the 1980s the government stepped in and took steps to reprogram the handling of refuse, explained Karin Hoppe, an engineer with ESL. “They said we’re producing too much garbage and need to start recycling. That’s when the recycling movement really started.”

With more and more people joining in recycling efforts, the result has been that remaining residual waste is burned before being used for other industrial uses or buried at the landfill " greatly reducing the amount of remaining waste.

“There were two major problems when building a landfill in the past,” said Hoppe, describing that no provisions were taken to harness the gases produced by the rotting waste and to ensure that ground water was not contaminated. But thanks to modern methods of using layers of natural materials to separate refuse from ground water, to capture and treat resulting liquids and to funnel off and reuse gases created by the decaying garbage, landfills these days are much more environmentally friendly. “In the summer up to 700 sheep graze on this hill,” said Hoppe, explaining that the roots of plants growing over the landfill never come into contact with the decaying materials buried underneath.

“We’re doing a project in our class making a tower out of newspaper,” said fifth-grader Adam Falk, describing their focus on recycling for Earth Day. “It’s important to keep our world clean and to know that the greenhouse effect won’t go away.”

“I liked the tour because we got to experience how you recycle and respect the earth,” said Hainerberg Elementary School’s Destiny Sanders.

“It was fascinating to see how the Germans do it,” added Molly Moore. “I learned a lot about landfills.”

“Nothing can be dumped here before it is pre-treated,” said Peter Zeisberger, with the garrison DPW’s Operations and Maintenance Division. Zeisberger pointed out that while many military community residents do play an active role in recycling efforts, more could still be done.

ELW officials report that on average German households recycle about 65 percent of their total refuse, while USAG Wiesbaden residents recycle about 40 to 45 percent of their trash. He added that one of the reasons the German rate is higher is because garden and bio waste is included in the recycling process.

That’s one of the reasons why environmental managers attempt to reach people at an early age with recycling education. “They’re typically more receptive and then they take the recycling message home to their parents,” said Boehle. “We want to implant in them the idea and hope it will stick with them.”

For more information on trash pickup schedules, individual trash can use and recycling visit the garrison’s home page at www.wiesbaden.army.mil and click on the Recycling Guide link " or call civ (0611) 705-9999.

Page last updated Thu May 26th, 2011 at 08:44