Recycling world tour

Recycling bottles (clear, green and brown, separately), also clothing, and various, Hannover, Germany

MY EARLIEST school years taught me, before crossing a road, to “look right, look left and look right again.” Or was it the other way around … ? And does any rule apply world-wide? I must have learned to cycle on the left, because keeping to the “wrong” side of the road still bewilders me. High concentrations of silent-cyclists-from-nowhere on criss-crossing lanes add to the hazards. That’s Germany.

Lately, I’ve been wishing school taught me another life skill, namely, how to recycle. What goes in what colour bin? What about mixed materials? What happens to other stuff?

I try my best, but what precisely are “soft plastics”? If I collect aluminium foil, where does it go? Am I just keeping wine-bottle corks to make another cork-board? I hear that an electric toothbrush divides in two directions.

On what will perhaps prove our last global trip, we stayed in several different houses in a few different countries, and (confession) I’ve basically given up.

Different nations, different parts of cities, and even different households make confusingly different demands.

I would like to suggest more global action. Where’s world government when we need it? Business already relies on considerable international coordination. Why can’t it standardise recycling?

Recycling makes the streets of Spain, Germany, China and elsewhere in Australia look, and also sound, gloriously exotic, given the different systems, so I eventually started taking photographs.

In Barcelona, for example, the green bin took “glass” (here, green is for garden organics);  blue meant “paper” (going into our yellow general recycling; and I haven’t noticed blue bins in Sydney); and grey was for “non-recyclable” (red for us; and I haven’t noticed grey here either). The only possible match might be brown, for “organic” in Barcelona, and I think being used for a kitchen scraps trial in Sydney.

In Hannover, the church bells across the road would stop after 10 pm and resume at the same ungodly hour as builders. But bottles never stopped clinking into large recycling containers alongside the church. Fascinatingly for us, designated bins took different glass colours: green, brown, and clear. A huge, suitably compartmentalised truck hoisted the bins and dropped the bottles out the bottom with a massive, weekly clatter. That’s the bottles the supermarket – across from the front of the church – wouldn’t take .

More street furniture, Hannover

For, at the supermarket, you inserted empty bottles singly into a roller to read the bar code. The reverse automat might then send some back out, but accept others for a redeemable deposit at the check-out.

Automatic refund detection in supermarket, Hannover

Blocks of apartments in Hannover often seemed to share a locked cage for garbage bins, sometimes on the front of the building or on the footpath. It wasn’t the neatest or quietest solution. In Shanghai, recycling could seem much slicker, and more padlocks presumably restricted these bins to nearby households.

Shanghai, China

I’m trying to recall where garbage collection was paid for by requiring official plastic bags, sold through supermarkets. Such “pay-as-you-waste” schemes ostensibly encourage waste reduction (although sometimes dumping). Inevitably, the schemes have a confusing number of names, including Pay as you throw (PAYT), variable rate pricing, trash metering, unit pricing, and user-pays.

If we travelled less, the confusion could just remain a cute distraction. Still, it’s telling that we can’t standardise recycling.

A cafe in Newcastle, NSW, seemed to have invented yet another colour scheme.

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