In the reduce-reuse-recycle pyramid, reduction comes first

    15 Jun 2021

    In previous articles, we paid attention to the experience of various countries regarding waste recycling. In this digest, we will focus on Germany. And also – let’s read the opinion of an expert from the Post-Soviet country who advises refraining from consuming things that will inevitably become trash. In other words, we recall the well-known 3R principle of a sustainable lifestyle – reduce-reuse-recycle. And in it, reduction comes first.

    Comparison with Europe raises the question: why is it so good for them and they recycle more than half of the garbage?

    The undisputed world champion in recycling Germany composts up to 66% of waste and 93.5% of plastic bottles, DW states.

    The country’s path to these indicators began in the 80s. The topic of the extinction of forests in Germany was widely discussed those times, there were protests against the use of atomic energy. This political environmentalism movement intensified: on the wave of public concern, the Green Party was formed.

    After the reunification of the country in 1990, the state made it mandatory for traders to take back used packaging in order to separate usable materials from the waste. This is how the “double system of Germany” (das Duale System Deutschland) appeared. Within it, bottles, cans, bags, and packaging began to be delivered. Manufacturers place a special green badge on them, which allows them not to pay tax on the packaging, and include a deposit for it in the final cost of the product. From these revenues, businesses pay for the services of waste collection companies, which sort the packages and organize their recycling. Consumers, in turn, receive money in the amount of the security deposit back by handing over the container to the collection points.

    The country has a so-called circular waste management system, and carrying a cart of empty bottles to the supermarket is a customary ritual for the Germans. The start-up Recup, which appeared in 2016 in Bavaria, organically fit into the existing scheme of “collateral in exchange for packaging” and spread throughout Germany. The company set out to revolutionize the takeaway coffee industry by replacing disposable cups with reusable ones on a collateral basis. At the coffee shops and restaurants that partner with Recup, rushing customers receive their cappuccino in a reusable container, and then give it to any other partner of the company and return the deposit.

    Project participant Lara Frenken told Knife that the idea worked because there was understanding and acceptance from the public:

    “In recent years, more and more attention has been paid to environmental issues, environmental protection issues are actively discussed in politics, and society has reached the required level of consciousness a long time ago.

    Our idea was received very positively. This topic is popular and relevant because the media immediately showed interest in the project, many expressed a desire to help. Some cafes contacted us themselves and offered to cooperate: they also understand how serious the problem of disposable cups is. But of course, there are always those who refuse and are afraid to try.

    The only thing we got criticized for is that the Recup, although reusable up to 1000 times, is still made of plastic. Yes, the material is “not environmentally friendly”, but our research has shown that it is the one that suits the best: this way the products are more durable.”

    Currently, the Recup team has only 23 employees, but they are entering the international market and have already found supporters of the coffee revolution in South Africa. The company says that they do not receive any investments from the state and that they cope well without them.

    “Our business is working and growing, we are entrepreneurs and we want to move on, look for new places and new partners. But profit maximization is not an end in itself for the project,” says Lara.

    Recycling is not a panacea

    Even a perfectly tuned recycling system, such as in Germany, has a dangerous side effect. People get used to the fact that everything can be sent to the right container without harming nature, and they buy plastic bottles and packaging without any worries.

    But in the reduce-reuse-recycle pyramid, reduction comes first.

    Zero-waste is a starting point, without this further steps are meaningless, including recycling. E.g., this is a statement of the Russian activist Olesya Besperstova, who founded the “No Plastic It’s Fantastic” project in St. Petersburg in 2016. She said:

    “The solution is just zero waste. I realized that I needed to bend my line and talk about it. My project started out as an educational project: I realized the scale of the problem while surfing in Indonesia. It was not clear to me why garbage was taken from one island to another. I didn’t even know then that plastic doesn’t decompose.

    I was then working as a director of restaurant business development, I had experience in creating trends, and I realized that I could popularize the concept of zero waste. And it was important to talk about everything in a positive way.

    I didn’t scare anybody with photographs of turtles with plastic tubes in their noses, I’ve just tried to show that zero waste is stylish and beautiful.”

    By the way, the fact that the Indonesian coast is buried in the garbage may well be due to the merit of the eco-friendly champion – Germany. Sorting and reuse are not the same things, and the country has clear problems with the latter. According to official figures, the share of recycled plastic in Germany is 36%. Everything else that is economically impossible to process is burned or sold to Asian countries. After China refused to buy Western garbage in 2017, German waste rushed to India, Malaysia, and Indonesia and now covers the ocean coast. An ingenious startup that will prevent an environmental catastrophe and help correct the situation in countries that import waste has not yet been created. Maybe it will be you who will start it?

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