I moved to Germany nearly twenty-five years ago to this day. When I moved here:
- The American military presences was all pervasive
- Russia and the eastern block countries posed a threat to our democracy
- The European Union was an ideology and not a reality
- We paid for our goods in German marks and not Euros, and
- This industrial nation was one of the largest contributors of emissions on the continent
It has been exciting to experience the evolution of the European Union, the fall of the Berlin Wall, and the implementation of a single European currency. Yet, all these changes occurred because politicians sat together and made the changes creed. We, the little people, embraced, coped, or futilely resisted these changes as we chose.
The greatest change of individual empowerment has, I believe, occurred in people’s concern about the environment and the resulting environmental friendly practices. Everyone, young and old, is knowledgeable about reusable and recyclable alternatives. In this post I would like to use the example of garbage waste practices to show how a voluntary collective effort of many individual can make concrete changes in a positive direction.
In most areas of Germany homes have two garbage bins for waste: compost waste and “rest” waste (things that can’t be reused or recycled). In the apartment building I live in, with six apartments (15 residents) we use one bin a week for “rest” garbage. Our compost bin is emptied every two weeks.
We bring all our other recycling produce,
- Glass (coloured and clear)
- Paper and cardboard
- Clothes and shoes
to the recycling containers strategically positioned in the near vicinity to where we live. In the cities these recycling containers are usually found within three to four block radiuses. In small towns and villages they are centrally located.
All reusable produce (plastic and glass (juice, water, and soft drinks) bottles, yoghurt jars) is returned to the stores.
There are economic motivators for these practices, as well as environmental:
- You receive a small sum, e.g. 15 cents, on each returned bottle
- You pay dearly for each garbage bin with “rest” garbage
- You don’t pay for compost garbage
- Recycling produce can be put into the recycling containers for free
In the last fifteen years, since such practices have been followed Germans have increased their consumption, while drastically decreasing waste production: economical growth, ecological sound practices.
If you want to know more about what Germany is doing and hopes to do in the future, please listen to the German minister of environment, Sigmar Gabriel, speak (podcast of 26.09.07 about 32 minutes into the program) on The Kojo Nnamdi Show about the social, ecological, and economical factors of environmental changes.
Politicians determine and regulate of our environmental laws. but it is only through the collective effort of each individual that change will occur. We do not have to wait for others to tell us what to do. We can all just choose to make changes ourselves.