Ngoc Diep: Hello, Hoai. Welcome to the show. So you’ve been living with your little family in Germany, for 10 years, such a long time. We want to know from you whether you separate the garbage?
|Hoai Vu Bender is a freelance photographer. She has been living in Burgschwalbach, Germany, with her little family since 2009.
Hoai Vu Bender: Of course. We definitely have four garbage bins at home. These are organic, paper, plastic, and the rest is residual waste. We collect glass and batteries as well. And we transport everything else directly to the recycling yard, hazardous waste and things like that.
Ngoc Diep: Let's start with the easy stuff: glass. How do you sort out and recycle glass?
Hoai Vu Bender: Well, bottle or glass jar which is labeled with the sign ‘returnable’ will be returned at a machine in supermarkets. Any kind of bottle or glass jar on which you did not pay a deposit, belongs in the glass bin. This includes wine bottles, jam/preserve jars, oil bottles, juice bottles and even bath-salt bottles. Ceramics, mirrors and wine corks do not belong in the glass bins.
Glass is sorted by colors. There are different slots for depositing green, brown and clear glass. You will find these bins dotted over every neighborhood.
Public glass bins (Photo: DW)
Ngoc Diep: What about the other bins?
Hoai Vu Bender: The other bins you will encounter are usually at your doorstep, and are color coded: blue, yellow, brown and grey. Blue bins are for all packaging made of paper and cardboard, newspapers, magazines, waste paper, paper bags, etc. Tissues, however, do not belong here. If you don't have a blue bin at your home, you will certainly find one somewhere in your neighbourhood. You are supposed to flatten boxes before putting them in the bin, and make sure you throw only the box and not the plastic wrappers inside the box, in the bin.
| Blue is for paper (Photo: DW)
Ngoc Diep: What kind of rubbish is reserved for the yellow bin?
Hoai Vu Bender: That’s the more advanced level of separating and recycling waste.
Cans, plastic, polystyrene, aluminium, tinplate and "composite" materials like beverage cartons, made of a mixture of materials belong in the yellow bin. Empty spray cans are also allowed here. You are not supposed to put stuff inside each other, like the yogurt cup inside the baked beans tin.
And lastly, spare a thought for the end process: this stuff gets sorted by hand. A kind request has been made to rinse the cans and cups before throwing them in the bin. No need to scrub, just a light rinse.
|Yellow bin (Photo: DW)
Ngoc Diep: Now if you are left with the "other stuff" and biological waste, which by the way, makes up almost 50 percent of the total garbage produced in Germany. How do you deal with them?
Hoai Vu Bender: Bio stuff is anything destined for the compost heap in a good gardener's back yard. This includes kitchen scraps, peels, leftover food, coffee filters, tea bags and garden waste. If you live in a house, you probably will have a separate brown bin for this. The end result of bio recycling is either energy through the natural fermenting gasses, which is captured and utilized, or garden compost. So this is good stuff to recycle, but also a bit smelly at times. The brown bins do, however, get emptied very regularly during the summer months.
The black or grey bin is for "Restmüll" - whatever is left that shouldn't go in the previous bins, from diapers to cigarette butts or any other soiled item. (Photo: DW)
Ngoc Diep: What would you do if you don’t live in a house and have a separate brown bin?
Hoai Vu Bender: Well, If you are not fortunate enough to have a separate brown bin and don't feel like making your own compost heap, you are allowed to throw the bio stuff in your household waste bin, the grey one. This bin is also the destiny of, finally, "almost the rest". This includes ash, cigarette butts, old household objects like hairbrushes and frying pans, textiles and nylon stockings, nappies/diapers, tissues, other personal hygiene items, extremely dirty paper, etc. Everything in the gray bins will be incinerated.
Ngoc Diep: What about the stuff that did not feature anywhere else. That can be the hazardous waste, which includes fluorescent tubes, batteries and acids, cans of paint still containing paint, thinners, adhesives, corrosives, disinfectants, insecticides, and so forth?
Hoai Vu Bender: Then you will receive a notice from your local town council on when and where the truck collecting this kind of waste, will be. You need to bring your stuff to the site for them to dispose of it in the proper manner. If this waste ends up in the gray bin, it will be burnt with the rest of the "gray" waste, which could result in extremely poisonous gasses.
And batteries are disposed of separately. Look out for a small bin (it looks like a small garbage bin) at your local shopping area. You can deposit your used batteries there for proper disposal.
Hazardous waste. Many supermarkets collect used batteries and each town has its own collecting system for other hazardous waste. (Photo: DW)
Ngoc Diep: And if you are still left with something you would like to throw away and do not think that it belongs to the flea market or any above mentioned places like a sofa, broken hi-fi, chairs, building materials, what shall you do?
Hoai Vu Bender: Another useful feature of the waste disposal system in most cities in Germany is the Recyclinghof, an outlying area to which you can transport your trash and such items with your car. They are equipped with containers for the deposit of such things as furniture, batteries, electrical and electronic items, paper, plastic, cans, glass, wood and garden waste. The staff working there can guide you to the proper bin.
There are special collecting points for what is known as "Sperrmüll" in Germany, where you can drop off that used sofa, old TV or leftover building materials. (Photo: DW)
Ngoc Diep: No arguing that sorting and recycling is great. In Germany, 80 percent of waste is recycled, and electronic waste is even more. But isn’t it even better than separating rubbish to avoid rubbish?
Hoai Vu Bender: That’s true. One option is to prevent as much garbage as you can.
- Buy yourself a cotton shopping bag and bring that along every time you go shopping instead of using the plastic carry bags provided by the store.
- Buy fresh fruit and vegetables at the outdoor market. They use paper bags or you can take the stuffs directly into your bag.
- Buy loose products in the supermarket. Avoid products with obvious superfluous packaging.
- Bring your own egg carton with you every time you buy eggs.
- Use returnable product options and use refill packs.
- Pack food in reusable containers. In Germany, I always try to buy as many products as I can with the Green Dot on it. This means that the manufacturer is assisting in financing the recycling of the packaging. You will find yourself tuned into the recycling frame of mind in no time.
Ngoc Diep: Thank you, Hoai, very much for your interesting talk.