I went to the tip yesterday. In fact I go nearly every Saturday morning, like most of the residents here. Here we don’t call it the tip – it’s the “Wertstoffhof” which literally means “valuable material place”. To the modern person it is a recycling centre. I call it the tip because I grew up in the 1970s and back then there were only two way to throw things away – the bin or the tip. I can vaguely remember going to a tip once with my Dad and I think we did chuck our waste onto a common pile of junk – but I might be imagining that.
Needless to say, our Wertstoffhof bears no resemblance to the tip in my memory. There are various containers for all the usual stuff – plastic, glass, paper, cardboard, wood, scrap metal and so on. But when Germans do something, they do it properly, and you have to be pretty good at sorting your stuff out to avoid a stern remark from the recycling wardens that man the containers. For example, we have 3 different places to put plastic. There is one skip for general plastic packaging, another smaller container for plastic sheets larger than A4 and yet another one for “hard plastic objects”. But where does hard plastic start and normal plastic end? Once or twice I have been caught pirouetting between the two skips with a worn out tupperware box – not daring to commit either way.
Being a male, I used to never ask where I should put a certain items. Just like I never ask where something is in a shop or ask for directions. I would much rather just spend ages looking for it myself. Asking for help just feels a little like admitting defeat. A full-grown resident of Germany should always know exactly which skip his plastic goes into! But for the last two years I have swallowed my pride and actually asked for help. What a revelation. The recycling wardens absolutely love it! They are courteous and eager to help. Now they recognise me and I almost get a smile when I turn up. Sometimes I ask them about stuff even when I know the correct receptacle – it doesn’t hurt to keep the wheels of friendship oiled.
I don’t just go to the Wertstoffhof for pleasure, though. It’s a necessity. Like every household here we are allotted a fairly small wheely bin for normal waste and a compost bin for organic waste. Both are emptied every fortnight. Everything else has to go to be recycled. So we collect and separate all our stuff each week in a corner of the cellar and I load up the car and head up on a Saturday morning. Now that we are expert pre-sorters, the whole episode including the 5 minute drive there and back takes no more than half an hour. It’s not too bad and why not? We are responsible for our waste. The system works and you quickly get used to it.
If we have to get rid of some really big waste (a sofa, for example) or items which are not classifiable then we should pay a small fee per cubic metre. Sometimes the wardens let me chuck in the odd item free of charge, though. This is particularly satisfying.
On the whole I don’t mind the German waste system. I moaned about it in the past, but the concept of “the more you waste, the more you pay” isn’t a bad thing.