Should people be punished for not recycling

Collecting and sorting senselessly - the fairy tale of waste separation

from report: Christian Rohde, Volker Steinhoff, Stephan Stuchlik

Our yoghurt pot is made of plastic, its lid is made of aluminum - oh god. So fight against the bad environmental conscience: wash out the cup, remove the paper label, tear off the aluminum lid, wash off. Then sort: the cup in the yellow sack, the label in the paper collection and the lid in the extra bin. But woe betide you confuse aluminum and tinplate! What are we proud of, because we are environmentally friendly. Not like those abroad. You know what? The French even throw their plastic bottles in the normal trash. But here it comes: he's right. Waste separation is nonsense! At least that's what experts say.

Waste separation in Heidelberg, for example at Ilke Wilhelm's home. She shows her garbage treasures. The separation requires special concentration, otherwise you can get confused.

"Yellow sack, residual waste, compost, paper, aluminum, glass, corks and hazardous waste, roughly eight," says Ilke Wilhelm. When asked "Do you think all of this is necessary?" she just looks surprised: "What does necessary mean, that's just a given."

Waste separation in Stade is also precisely regulated. Anyone who does not separate properly there has no chance! Because the smallest traces in the garbage are enough to identify the sinners. Bianca Scheller was caught and received a mail:

"I read the letter and thought so, they are probably a little crazy because I'm supposed to pay so much. 150 marks!" How did you find out about her? "It says: 'Dear Ms. Scheller, there were clippings with your address in the yellow bags'."

Waste separation - a science in itself. The districts and independent cities are solely responsible for this in Germany. There are over 400 of them, and almost everyone has a different system.

In Sinsheim, for example, there is the green bin for recyclable materials. Not so in Tübingen: "green" stands for organic waste. Both would be wrong in Kassel: there, waste paper is put in the green bin.

Everything is harmless compared to Ludwigsburg: There are two green bins, but with different contents. Holger Meise-Fischer from the district of Ludwigsburg explains: "In the district of Ludwigsburg, citizens have the option of collecting two different fractions of recyclable materials with the green bin. On one day, they use the green bin to make the 'flat' fraction available, which is essentially exhibited There is paper and cardboard. The next working day he can use the same bin to provide the recyclable fraction 'round', which is essentially the DSD materials. "

"Flat" on one day, "round" on the other, depending on the garbage disposal. And what is "round"? Holger Meise-Fischer goes on to explain: "The idea behind the 'round' faction was that the basic shapes of the materials are largely round, such as the bottle and the can." But the reporter sees something else in the bin: "The tetrapak is flat." The answer: "The Tetrapak is flat, but in terms of its material composition it still belongs to the 'round' fraction.

The dual system turns over four billion marks with packaging recycling. What percentage of the green dot waste is actually recycled? Heike Schiffler from the Duales System: "Packaging with the green dot is completely recycled as long as it is placed in our containers."

For example in Hamburg: There the packaging goes to SKP, a partner company of the green dot. There, too, one asserts: Everything is recycled. For example, Frank Rosenboom from the SKP sorting system: "Basically, the recycling rate is almost 100 percent, apart from the incorrect filling of the yellow sack, i.e. what does not belong in it. All materials that are lightweight packaging are also recycled."

"Does it still happen that DSD rubbish is taken to incineration plants," asks the reporter. "So definitely not."

Really not? Visit to a Hamburg waste incineration plant. Suddenly the letters SKP appear in the middle of the garbage trucks, a green truck straight from the recycling company.

Then the surprise: on the floor of the waste incineration plant ends up what the Hamburgers carefully separated and sorted beforehand - reusable materials from SKP that are supposedly recycled. Karl Lüder from the Hamburg garbage incineration plant confirms: "These are packaging leftovers, i.e. packaging materials from the green dot: a soup can, care bath or the like." On the packaging: the green dot!

"Is this an exception, have we picked it out, or is it all green here," the reporter wants to know. Karl Lüder: "No, the load that we have now received is green packaging waste that comes from the sorting plant. It is simply burned. Here in the waste incineration plant, it is now burned in the oven."

Again the question at the green dot: Can that be - incineration instead of recycling? Heike Schiffler from the dual system replies: "In principle, we do not put any packaging into waste incineration because we can recycle it much more efficiently, with much higher quality, and thus achieve a much greater benefit than with waste incineration."

The truth is different: green dot packaging in the waste incineration plant - everyday life.

This is also confirmed by Reinhard Kaulbarsch from the Hamburg waste incineration plant: "A large amount of the green point gets into the waste incineration plants." Does that mean that a large part of the amount of waste with the green dot is actually burned? And not recycled, so recycled? Reinhard Kaulbarsch: "That is correct."

And so the recyclable materials with the green dot land on the slag heaps of the incineration plant. The miserable end of the laborious waste separation.

Hamburg is not an isolated case, Gunnar Sohn, an insider, knows that too. For years he was a spokesman for the dual system. "A large proportion of the plastic packaging, which is always so nicely labeled as mixed plastics, is also destroyed. It goes into the blast furnace."

Then the reporter's question to the representative of the Hamburg waste incineration plant: "Do you think that it is easy to explain when everything is thrown together again here?" Karl Lüder's answer: "No, that's not easy to explain. Well, I think it's nonsense, to put it bluntly. I don't do it as hard at home as I used to do since I knew it."

The man is right, because collecting and recycling plastic packaging doesn’t make much sense anyway, according to the former dual system spokesman Gunnar Sohn: "To really get something sensible out of it, I think the energy that you have to put in is so high that it is ecologically complete nonsense to make something sensible out of it again. "

Organic waste is also a carefully separated resource. At some point it should turn into valuable compost. Panorama is on the road with a real organic waste expert. Frank Doss hunts all kinds of pests in the city of Berlin. And when he looks into the bin, he knows for whom organic waste is really a valuable material: "Flies, lots of flies. Then we have mold here, for example. The multiplication of bacteria that find microbes practically all the time. And here you see maggots that are already involved in the decomposition of the waste. " The pest controller finds all of this in a barrel. "Children play here - it's a mess, just a mess. There is a lid on it, but children are curious, they can walk on it. Pests, rats are attracted. And it's just a huge mess."

The pest controller is now on the go around the clock and has been called to the so-called better residential areas for a few years now - since waste separation has existed. "There are areas where we hardly had to go in the past. And now we often have to go. There used to be garbage cans there too, but since the organic waste bin was added, we have had this phenomenon that tenants call and say: We have a rat on it Seen the courtyard. And that is pretty much reinforced. "

Rats through organic waste? Panorama asked the Berlin waterworks. The rodents move in their sewer network. Dag Palm from the water company: "The problem is, before these food scraps were disposed of in the household waste, and today they are separated, as the saying goes. It's like a restaurant for the rat here."

Because, say the waterworkers, where the carefully separated organic waste with the leftover food is upstairs, the uninvited guests collect below - beneficiaries of the waste separation.

In Wetzlar im Lahn-Dill everything has been in a bin for a long time. District Administrator Karl Ihmels fights against waste separation in the kitchen: "Well, of course, the material has to be separated so that it can be used properly afterwards. Only - that doesn't have to be done in the house, so that it is still separated in the house. That is Not ecologically sensible, not economically anyway, and it is also quite questionable in terms of epidemic hygiene. You can now do that with the machine, which is of course better for that. "

All garbage goes in a bin, because a machine sorts everything apart. This ultra-modern facility has existed for a long time in Wetzlar, Hesse. Everything can be sorted out here, without the domestic obsession with collecting. Except for plastic, which is not worth recycling anyway. The machines even remove glass from household waste using infrared technology. Going to the glass container is completely superfluous. Pure white glass - the machine can do that too.

"We have such a complicated network of additional expenses for the families, of additional expenses for the waste management industry. And none of this would be necessary if one were to use modern technology," says District Administrator Ihmels.

But this is exactly what the dual system is fighting against in court. Because the model from Hessen would mean the end of domestic waste separation.

Instead, the mania for sorting continues. Separation makes no sense, but has long been an end in itself. This is why the so-called "electronic garbage collector" is in use in the Tübingen district. The organic waste is checked. Metal, for example, is not allowed in there.

The "garbage collector" is an electronic measuring device on the back of the car. He sounds the alarm and reports: Metal in the bin. Then it puts a red card. That means in plain language: the bin is not emptied.

"It seldom happens that this is repeated," says Andrea Riedinger from the Tübingen district, "that people get red cards one after the other because it is so uncomfortable. On the one hand, you notice that the bin is the only one in it Street, with a red card, everyone may see it. You don't want to attract attention there. " Does that mean that the garbage collector also has an educational effect? "First and foremost, he has that, of course," says Andrea Riedinger.

The main thing is that the people are educated. Most of them want it that way, regardless of whether the waste separation makes sense or not. "Waste separation in its current form, is it ecologically and economically sensible?" Was the question put to Klaudia Martini, Environment Minister in Rhineland-Palatinate. "In this differentiated form, it is not ecologically and economically at all sensible", said the minister. The reporter's question: "Why are we doing it anyway?" "We are probably all afraid that the people's environmental awareness will get a crack because we've been telling them long enough about how important it is to separate and sort."

The assessment of Karl Ihmels, district administrator in the Lahn-Dill district: "It has a specific German history, but it is now ideological to the point of being impossible."

Gunnar Sohn, the former spokesman for the Duales System, sees it very similarly: "That is the calming of the ecological conscience. That seems to be a German disease, because in no single country outside of Germany is there such a waste separation terror as we practice here. "