Teabags, receipt and bubble bag: 14 common mistakes in waste separation and recycling.

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The Germans are world champions in waste sorting. That’s the way it is said. The Ministry of the Environment even has a recycling rate of 80%. If you take a closer look, the picture unfortunately gets considerably clouded. Because the statistics only count what disappears in the recycling plant, but not what happens there with the garbage.

For example, only half of what is collected in the yellow sack will actually be recycled. A key factor is that many household wastes are separated wrongly. Even modern sorting plants can not always fish out these “misses”, so tons of recyclable materials are simply burned every year.

So that the effort you make at home does not become pointless, you will find common mistakes in the following when separating recyclables.

1) “Saving space is ecological.”

Not correct. It sounds logical at first: The yellow sack is made of plastic, if you stack packaging garbage in each other, saves space and less yellow bags are needed. However, the packaging waste consists of different recyclables, which must be sorted in the recycling plant within a very short time. If that fails, the valuable materials end up in the kiln.

2) “Receipts belong to the waste paper.”

Not correct. Tickets, parking tickets and tickets usually consist of thermal printing paper. This is coated with the hormonally active chemical bisphenol A, which can get into the environment via recycled paper – such as toilet paper – and pollute the waters.

3) “Yogurt cups should be rinsed out.”

Unnecessary. The idea that plastic should be recycled, where food remains moldy, may be strange. However, flushing is ecologically not sensible, but mere water waste. The waste is sufficiently cleaned in the treatment plant. But what you can help the garbage graders, is, if you pull off the aluminum lid from the yogurt cup.

4) “Remove the bubble wrap from the envelope.”

Not correct. Air cushion bags belong in the residual waste. Although it is well meant to frieze the paper from the film, however, it never succeeds completely. However, normal paper envelopes with viewing window can also confidently go to waste paper as well as cartons with adhesive tape remnants. They can usually be mechanically separated. Whoever wants to cut off tape and the like should not be deterred.

5) “Tea bags belong in the residual waste.”

Not correct. The scene in the film “Otto – Der Außerfriesische”, in which Otto Waalkes co-regulates organic farmers, does not separate tea bags for old paper, scrap metal and old thread, is famous. It is nothing more than a joke. Paper and cord rot, metal – which many manufacturers are now willing to do without – is filtered out. Teabags are thus in the bio bin. In contrast, organic waste bags made from corn starch are problematic. Of course, they also decompose, but are difficult to distinguish from carelessly disposed plastic.


6) “Old glasses are waste glass.”

Not correct. Glass has one of the best recycling rates. 89% of the old glass becomes bottles, screw jars and crucibles again. By the way, you do not necessarily have to remove the lids, that’s what the sorting system does. Of course, it helps to reduce energy consumption by throwing it in the yellow sack. However, only glass that was intended as packaging, in the Altglascontainer. Broken drinking glasses, vases or ashtrays are usually made of harder glass, which has a higher melting point, and come in the residual waste.

7) “Empty pizza boxes are normal cardboard.”

Mostly wrong. The quality of the recycled paper depends heavily on the condition of the waste paper. Dirt and grease can not be removed when processing the waste paper. Therefore, by the way, no wet and moldy boxes should end up in the paper bin.

8) “CDs and DVDs are allowed in the yellow bag.”

Not correct. The yellow sack only includes packaging. Since it does not necessarily make sense from an ecological point of view why plastic cups should be recycled, but an old toothbrush made of the same material should be disposed of in the residual waste, in some cities so-called recyclable materials are also available. Neither here nor there but include the metal-coated discs inside.

9) “Wrapping paper is packaging waste.”

Not correct. In most cases, wrapping paper is simply printed paper. Although it glitters so colorful, it is still good for corrugated or egg cartons. However, if it gets into the yellow sack, it gets dirty and has to be sorted out. Coated papers such as baking paper, glossy magazines made of photo paper and silver paper from cigarette packs, on the other hand, belong to the residual waste. If advertising leaflets are shrink-wrapped in foil, it makes sense to dispose of them separately – otherwise they are simply burned together in many plants.

10) “Old handkerchiefs are new.”

Not correct. Used handkerchiefs should be thrown into the residual waste for hygienic reasons. There are also used napkins and kitchen towels, although they do not cause any damage even in the bio bin. A preparation of the pulp is not possible.

11) “Electronics without battery may be disposed of in the residual waste.”

Not correct. Since 2015, legislators have obliged retailers to take back old small electrical appliances. Even easier is the disposal of the mailbox, thanks to a free service of Deutsche Post . On the other hand, if electronic waste ends up in residual waste, it is even punishable! Printer cartridges and toner are too bad for burning, especially since some providers can still get some money for them.

12) “Empty files are household waste.”

Almost true. Anyone who would like to bother to break up file folders into their components is welcome to do so. Otherwise, because of the riveted metal parts, they actually belong to the household waste. In many municipalities larger quantities are accepted as bulky waste, which relieves the residual waste bin considerably.

13) “Alufoil has lost nothing in the yellow sack.”

Almost true. Alufoil, which was not part of a packaging, strictly speaking, should not be placed in the yellow sack. For the manufacturers have paid no fees. However, it is still accepted by the disposal companies because aluminum is a valuable raw material that can still be used to make money. So you can throw it in the yellow sack.

14) “Old clothes are only business deals.”

Almost true. Old clothes containers have gotten a bad reputation in recent years. In fact, most containers are now no longer social institutions, but commercial organizations. These make the clothes money. From an ecological point of view, however, this commercial exploitation is a good thing. In this way, broken garments can still be processed into insulating materials, car seats and other things.

Criticism of the recycling system

Again and again one hears this reproach: The recycling system pulls the citizens only the money out of the bag and in the end the yellow sacks are burned unopened. In fact, the manufacturers set their royalties on the selling price – so ultimately financed the customer’s recycling. And indeed, it came in the early 1990s, when the dual system was introduced, to absurd scenes in which yellow bags were burned or shipped to China. But on the one hand the citizens save garbage fees, if their residual waste bin is relieved. On the other hand, there are already enough waste separation plants.

This leads to the next charge: The yellow bags are burned to utilize the waste incinerators. Again, there is a grain of truth. The incineration plants generate electricity and heat that the disposal companies want to bring to the market as profitably as possible. However, there are strict requirements for what – and how much of it – can be burned. As the organization Greenpeace points out, this form of energy generation also has positive side effects for the climate and the environment – at least as long as coal-fired power plants are still the alternative.

More serious is the criticism that the recycling system can degenerate into a window dressing. Plastic waste can only produce inferior raw materials. Basically, plastic recycling is downcycling. Reusable is therefore always better than disposable – even if it may seem like a lottery win to some people, if they get back more deposit for disposable plastic bottles. The highest priority is the avoidance of unnecessary waste. Then recycling is indeed a meaningful contribution to subsequent generations. This article shows you how to avoid many plastic products in the bathroom, for example .

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