Recycling separates the good from the bad
October 22, 2012
GRAFENWOEHR, Germany -- One of the most challenging aspects of living abroad is adjusting to small lifestyle changes. For Americans in Germany, a pervasive issue is recycling.
While many communities in the U.S. have adopted recycling, Germany has a standardized system that recycles a maximum amount of varied materials. Like all recycling systems, Germany's hinges on the proper sorting of refuse.
But, the system can get a little complicated, and because of the cultural barrier, foreigners in Germany may not understand the purpose of the Gelb sack, or what goes into the Restmuell bin or that old printer cartridges do not constitute Bio.
This means that those living off post may get a disapproving look from a neighbor or an instructive note from a sanitation worker if recyclables aren't sorted correctly -- like when a plastic bottle is found in the Restmuell or wine corks slip into the glass bin. Even community members on post must follow the guidelines.
While recycling paper causes little confusion, other bits of refuse, such as mixed materials, light bulbs and packaging, require more know-how.
Glass jars and wine, oil, beer and juice bottles get thrown into the glass or "Glas" containers. Ceramics, such as china and porcelain cannot be recycled; neither can mirrors nor light bulbs. Also, vino bottles must be uncorked -- the corks go into Restmuell -- before recycling.
If different bins are available for brown, green and clear glass, use them. Off post, glass is usually recycled in designated areas away from residential zones, such as grocery store parking lots.
Because sanitation workers sort glass by hand, it is courteous to give food and drink containers a quick rinse before recycling.
All dry paper goes in bins (usually blue) sometimes labeled "Papier." Breaking down the cardboard boxes is the most grueling part of paper recycling. Aside from the boxes, all newspapers, magazines, books, used paper, paper bags and other paper products can be tossed in without much grunt work.
Packaging made of multiple materials, such as the plastic front and paper back of a tooth brush box, can be recycled as well, albeit in individual receptacles. The paper back heads to the paper recycling, while the clear, plastic front gets tossed into the yellow bin or a Gelb sack.
Yellow bins and Gelb sacks are a jack of all trades in the recycling world. Plastics, from drink bottles to yogurt containers, get recycled here.
Plastic bags, packaging, shampoo, lotion and soap bottles, along with foil and plastic packaging are all Gelb sack-worthy. Composite goods, like milk cartons, go here as well, along with empty spray bottles and plastic trays for fruits and vegetables.
On post, a separate container exists for metal. Tin cans and soda cans make up the bulk of this haul. Off post, however, metal goes into the Gelb sacks.
As with glass bottles, all plastic and metal containers should get a rinse before heading to the recycling receptacles.
If living off post and there aren't any yellow bins in the residential area, Gelb sacks are used. Rolls of the yellow plastic bags can be picked up at designated gas stations or at the local Rathaus. The bags can be placed outside near the street on a specific day of the week to be picked up.
Waste, or Restmuell, is for household and miscellaneous trash. Tissues get recycled here and not with paper. Cigarette butts, wine corks, broken glass, ceramics, wet paper, mirrors, rubber and home repair scraps, such as nails, screws and wire are considered trash. For those living on post who don't compost, food scraps and plant clippings also belong here.
Those who live and recycle off post must contend with one more container, Bio.
Think of brown bins, labeled "Bio," as compost. Any kitchen scraps or trimmings from a garden or household plants can go in here. Also acceptable are coffee filters, feathers, hair, sawdust and tea bags without their paper tags.
Because hazardous waste is often flammable and contaminates recyclables, it necessitates separate disposal. Hazardous materials, such as paint, paint thinners, cleaning products, toners, batteries, automotive fluids and pesticides, are labeled with "danger," "warning" or "caution." Any product with these warnings cannot be thrown out with household recyclables or trash.
E-waste, handheld electronics or anything that uses electricity -- fans, blenders, TVs, toasters, refrigerators -- must also be disposed of separately. E-waste contains harmful substances such as lead, mercury and cadmium that could prove toxic if disposed of improperly. Moreover, e-waste has salvageable materials, such as copper and aluminum that can be re-used in other products.
Community members can dispose of all hazardous materials and e-waste at the Grafenwoehr Recycling Yard, across from Range 118. They recycle everything from car batteries to toner cartridges and florescent light bulbs. The recycling center in Rose Barracks will take only dry-cell and car batteries, but the Self Help Center there will accept any refuse but car batteries and e-waste. The Grafenwoehr Self Help center will accept everything except car batteries.
Drop boxes for dry cell batteries are scattered throughout post at the PX or commissary, or in the barracks. However, the Directorate of Public Works Environmental Division must dispose of lithium and magnesium batteries.
For more information on recycling or disposing of hazardous waste and e-waste, contact the DPW Environmental Division at DSN 475-7711, CIV 09641-83-7711, or visit their Facebook Page at www.facebook.com/USAGGEnvironmental.