Waste separation. A little field trip.

Vanessa Koch — — 6 minutes

You hear it again and again: in the end everything is thrown together again anyway. That's the way it works, and we think we're doing something useful. No, it's not that bad. Let's just say that we can and must do more.

According to the Federal Environment Agency, 69% of 18 million tons of packaging waste was recycled in 2015. This means that these recyclable materials are returned to the cycle in a new form and function. The best rates are provided by glass (85 percent), paper (86 percent) and metal (92 percent).

Naturally, everything starts earlier, with the purchase. This is where we decide how much waste we take home and then separate and dispose of it accordingly. But the basis for saving recyclable materials and being able to use them again in the first place begins with the correct waste separation. And the clearing up of myths. Here we go.

Mülltrennung. Eine kleine Exkursion.
Non-separated garbage is not recycled, but burned or disposed on the garbage dump (Photo: Tom Fisk from Pexels)

Yellow is not green enough.

Let's start with the yellow bin or the yellow bag. Surely more educational work must be done here. Because many simply do not know what belongs in there and what does not. First of all, it is now called a reusable waste bin or sack and enables the clear separation and thus the recycling of valuable raw materials such as glass, metal, paper or plastic. One figure in advance: in 2015, 49% of plastic waste was recycled. The rest, more than half, was incinerated. The goal must be to return even more recyclable materials back into the economic cycle and burn less.


It is obvious. If I throw the plastic cup with whipped cream or yoghurt into the recyclable materials bin or bag and half is still in it, then first of all that is wasteful and secondly the recycling process needs more energy and hot water for cleaning. Because only when the material is clean can it be recycled. So, it's best to eat it all up and then go to the bin. It has to be spoonful clean. Washed out? Clear no.

Clean grade.

The purity of the materials to be recycled is crucial for success. Because, as described above, the aim is to recover valuable materials. The yoghurt packaging is made of plastic, the lid is made of aluminium. The recyclable materials must be separated, only then will they be recognized as such in the waste disposal plant. If the aluminium lid remains on the plastic packaging, it cannot be recycled, the waste cannot be reused. Sorting is therefore the be-all and end-all to ensure that valuable materials are returned again and again to the reusable materials cycle. This is the only way to save raw materials, water and energy.


Purity of type also applies here. But what do I do with paper bags and envelopes with a window or air cushion envelopes? Separate the paper from the plastic and then put it in the recycling bin! Only in this way can the raw materials be recycled and used again.

Clear as glass.

Yes, in the meantime modern systems can actually sort out the lids. But: Sometimes the lids are made of plastic, sometimes of metal. And there are also corks. Therefore, separate the lids and plastic corks cleanly: the lids and plastic corks into the yellow recycling bag, the used glass into the recycling container. By the way: Real cork is collected separately, your local waste disposal company will know where the next collection point is.

White. Green. Brown.

When the glass is picked up by the garbage collectors, they put it all back together again. It may look that way from the outside, but the garbage trucks have separate compartments for each color of glass. And there's a good reason for that, because that's the only way white glass stays white and green stays green. If you mix the colors, you don't get a clear color image after you melt it down, white glass is no longer white. Recycling does not work.

Glass or metal.

Glass speaks for glass, it is tasteless and there is no interaction with the contents. As is the case with containers made of plastic or metal. If food is packed in metal, the container is always coated with plastic inside, usually with bisphenol A. The disadvantage with glass is the poor balance that the environment takes. This is because the production and transport of disposable glass consumes a lot of energy. With reusable glass, the situation is already different. It can be refilled, up to 50 times. For comparison: PET bottles are only filled 25 times. Those who want to do it right prefer reusable from the region, where the transport distances are shorter.

Paper bags vs. plastic bags.

Clearly, plastic bags are the great evil. Paper bags are green! Unfortunately it's not that easy. One of the advantages of paper is that it is biodegradable and leaves no traces in the environment, especially in the sea. On the other hand, its production consumes a lot of resources. Another reason is that the paper bag has to be constructed in a more stable way, i.e. up to three times more material is used so that it does not tear. In addition, there are a lot of chemicals involved, such as caustic soda, sulphites and sulphate. The best solution is to take a cloth bag with you when you go shopping. What's the problem?

Carton boxes.

You might think Tetrapaks are environmentally friendly. After all, the packaging is made of wood, a renewable raw material. It couldn't be better. Unfortunately, only 70% of the beverage cartons are made of cardboard, the rest is plastic. And its share of the packaging has increased even more in recent years. More plastic than wood. In addition, only about every third carton is recycled. We say: Hands off! Because if there is plastic in it, the environment is out.

Our tips:

  1. Do not use packaging.
  2. Ask your local waste disposal company about the rules for waste and recyclable material disposal. Then you can separate your garbage cleanly.
  3. Collect your packaging for 1-2 weeks. Then think about which packaging you could save.