Why doesn't recycling work in America

That happens to the German garbage

The Germans produced 18.16 million tons of packaging waste in 2016, reports the Federal Environment Agency. This includes both industrial and household waste. They threw away around 5.5 million tons of packaging in 2016 alone. That's 220 kilograms per person - a little less than in 2015, when it was 222 kilograms.

This means that Germany is not only well above the EU average. In no other country in the European Union do people produce as much packaging waste as in Germany. Comparative figures for the year are not yet available. But as early as 2015, the gap in waste production was so great that a year later it should hardly look any different. The EU reports the lowest per capita consumption for Bulgaria: 54.7 kilograms.

Paper ahead of plastics

Both Germany and the EU are taking action against plastic waste with guidelines and bans. Plastics are only the third most common packaging waste. In 2016, Germans used 8.1 million tons of paper. No other material ended up in German garbage cans as often. Plastic and other plastics only made up 3.1 million tons.

However, it is also far more expensive to recycle plastic than paper. This is why around 89 percent of paper waste was recycled in 2016, but only 50 percent of plastics. Almost all of the remaining waste in Germany ends up in incineration plants. Among other things, electricity and heat are produced. It used to be common practice to dump garbage in landfills. As a result, a lot of waste ended up uncontrolled in nature. In Germany and other countries in Europe, it is now forbidden to simply dump household rubbish into landfills. What can be reused must also be recycled. The rest must be incinerated before it can land in a landfill.

Bigger economic power, more garbage?

In the last few years and decades, the amount of packaging waste in Germany has increased steadily. There are many reasons why consumption is not falling despite many ecological measures, the Federal Environment Agency says: "One example is the additional functions of the packaging such as dosing aids or complex closures. These require more material and make recycling more difficult. The trend is also continuing towards smaller portions instead of bulk packaging, to mail order instead of on-site purchase and to take away from home, "said a comment from the authority.

It is noticeable that the amount of packaging waste has increased with the gross domestic product (GDP). More garbage through more economic power? In fact, the relationship between the amount of waste and GDP is a recognized parameter for measuring sustainability in the handling of waste. If GDP rises while the amount of waste falls, that speaks for sustainability. Since 1995, however, waste consumption in Germany has increased with GDP.

Model country Germany?

Germany - home of beer, land of poets and thinkers and inventors of waste separation. Hardly anything is as typically German as the three or four different garbage cans in our backyards. Germany is considered a pioneer when it comes to recycling. In 1991, the "Green Dot" was the first system of its kind to help disposal companies through pre-sorting to extract new raw materials from waste. According to the European Environment Agency EEA, two thirds of all waste - not just packaging waste - is recycled in Germany. The Ministry of the Environment even speaks of up to 80 percent.

But critics accuse the authorities of beautifying these figures. The decisive factor here is how these statistics are generated. The recycling quota officially includes all waste that is delivered to a sorting facility. Sometimes, however, waste ends up in a garbage can for which it was not intended. These so-called "missed throws" are sorted out and mostly burned. Nevertheless, they count as "recycled" in the statistics.

Garbage for the whole world

However, some of the German rubbish also ends up abroad. Other countries especially like to buy plastic waste from Germany in order to make new plastics from it. Around eleven percent of all packaging waste from Germany was exported abroad for recycling in 2016. At the same time, Germany itself buys rubbish from abroad, especially paper and glass. Germany did not buy plastic waste in 2016, explains the Federal Environment Agency. According to the Ministry of the Environment, Germany exported 24.3 million tons of garbage, but imported only 22.1 million tons itself.

Until last year, China was still considered the "landfill of the world". 56 percent of all plastic waste worldwide ended up there. However, on January 1, 2018, the country stopped importing various types of garbage, including unsorted plastic garbage. Environmental organizations criticized it for being unclear what exactly happened to the garbage in China. Actually, the EU states are only allowed to export their waste if it is ensured that it is recycled according to EU standards.

The Chinese import ban hit Europe unexpectedly. The EU even tried to negotiate a transition period with China - without success. One more reason to declare war on packaging waste and increase recycling rates. Not only the new five-point plan of the German government should contribute to this. A new packaging law will come into force next year. From then on, the plastic recycling quotas will have to be increased. From the current 49 percent to an initial 58.5 percent, and from 2022 even to 63 percent.