One of the most immediate culture shocks of traveling to Germany, especially if you grew up in the United States, is Germany’s seeming obsession with recycling. Whereas in the U.S. you are lucky if you can locate a recycling bin in public areas like parks or street corners, you’ll have the opposite problem in Germany, where you’ll find a sometimes confusing plethora of multi-colored bins. If you have been in this situation, looking around desperately to strangers or waiting to see what items other drop in each bin, we feel you. You are not alone. Even Germans sometimes question which bin is appropriate for which items.
Due to this common culture shock and the often harsh punishment one receives for a wrong move, we thought we’d give you the lowdown on German recycling.
Step 1: Prevent creating waste in the first place
Germany has created and continues to develop a culture of minimal waste. This is true for projects big and small: here are a few examples of major reducers of waste.
Many Germans are conscientious about recycling – and the German Pfandsystem makes it easy to do so.
Since 2003, Germany has had a system (the Pfandsystem or “deposit system”) that regulates the sale and return of plastic and glass bottles and aluminum cans. When someone buys a bottled beverage, they pay a deposit on that bottle (for example, 15 extra cents). If, however, they bring that empty bottle to a return station (often located in supermarkets), they get that money back. Imagine how much money you could get back if you return 50 empty bottles! This is why you sometimes see individuals voluntarily collecting used bottles in Germany.
The bottles that are eligible for Pfand (the “deposit” cash) are usually multi-use, refillable bottles. Plastic bottles in Germany can be reused up to 25 times and glass bottles can be reused up to 50 times. It is much more environmentally friendly to sterilize recycled bottles than to produce new, single-use bottles. The Pfand is an incentive to have those bottles returned, rather than thrown in the garbage.
Most bottles in Germany are eligible for Pfand, but there are always exceptions. Single-use bottles occasionally find themselves onto grocery store shelves and these are usually not eligible. Imported bottles from other countries may also not be subject to German laws and thus not be eligible for a deposit.
But overall, the German Pfandsystem is quite effective; last year, British company Eunomia named Germany as the world’s best recycler. In Germany, 97.9 percent of polyethylene terephthalate (PET) were sold with a deposit on them and 93.5 were recycled in 2015, according to a report by the German Society for Packaging Market Research. Most PET bottles end up as new PET bottles, but some are recycled into other products (plastic sheets, textile fibers, etc.)
Many Americans who visit Germany (or other Europeans with similar systems) rave about the Pfandsystem. Because after all – it’s efficient and it works.
The German Embassy endorsed e-mobility with its very own stand at the Washington Auto Show this winter. The German government supports the use of electric cars, offering incentives for consumers and investing in infrastructure and R&D.
This year, we are proud to announce that the German Embassy will be converting its entire fleet of cars to electric or hybrid cars and install charging stations on Embassy grounds. This switch will create an environmentally friendly transportation option for diplomats and staff that avoids emissions and protects public health.
German companies have long stated their plans to switch over to electric vehicle production. Car manufacturers like Volkswagen, BMW, Smart and Daimler are working to produce many new models of e-cars. Some of these were on display at the Washington Auto Show. By the year 2025, VW and Daimler expect that 25 percent of their sales will consist of e-cars alone, the Süddeutsche Zeitung reported last year.
This fast progression of the transition to e-cars is aided by the tax incentives put forth by the German government. In 2015, the German government dedicated 600 million Euros for e-car subsidies. In Germany, those who buy an electric car receive a 4,000 Euro subsidy, while those who buy a hybrid car receive 3,000 Euros. The car owners are also exempt from car ownership taxes for 10 years.
To make e-car ownership easier, the German government also plans to install at least 7,000 fast-charging points throughout the country, mostly along the Autobahn, by 2020.
With more than 129,246 plug-in electric cars registered in Germany between 2010 and 2017, the future looks electric!
We hope you all had a wonderful transition to 2018!
Looking back at 2017, it is clear that Germany again made strides in its production of renewable energy – and this is bound only to rise even more. A whopping 33.1 percent of Germany’s electricity generation came from renewable energy sources last year according to preliminary data. In fact, Germany experienced many days in which its supply was greater than its demand, causing some German companies to get paid, in a sense, to use it.
In Germany, there are some days where the supply of renewable energy produced is actually greater than needed, usually due to the weather. Examples includes particularly warm or sunny days, some weekends (when businesses and large factories are closed) and days with strong breezes. On such days, large energy consumers (such as factory owners) are occasionally paid to take the power, when the excess power cannot be stored. (This “payment” usually comes in the form of a reduction on a future electricity bill.)
During days when Germany had excess power in 2017, it also often exported this power to neighboring countries.
Throughout last year, Germany broke several renewable energy records. On April 30, for example, 85 percent of its electricity came from renewables, thanks to windy, sunny and warm weather. In the first half of 2017, Germany had generated 37.6 percent of its electricity from renewable energy.
Of course, the fact that Germany produced so much renewable energy is good news. It also highlights the challenges that we face as we make the transition to renewable energy. The extension and adaptation of the power grid to the needs of larger shares of intermittent renewable energy such as sun and wind as well as more storage options are solutions for the future power system.
Germany’s Transport Minister Alexander Dobrint once called self-driving cars the “greatest mobility revolution since the invention of the car.” In 2015, the minister even took a test drive in an autonomous Audi A7 on the Autobahn A9.
The German vehicle industry is rapidly changing; just a few weeks ago, German railway company Deutsche Bahn sent its first fully autonomous bus on the road to drive around passengers in Bad Birnbach, Bavaria. (Have no fear: the bus only drove at a speed of 9.3 mph and a human was able to take control of it at any time.)
Now, German car manufacturer Daimler delivered its first fully electric lorries to companies across Europe. These so-called “green trucks” can carry loads as heavy as 4.5 tons. Six batteries allow the zero-emission buses to travel 100 km at a time.
Other car manufacturers have also stated their plans for fully electric trucks. And in general, most car manufacturers have big plans for the future, whether it’s related to intelligent vehicles or zero-emission vehicles. Only a few, however, have sent self-driving cars or fully electric trucks to the streets.
But one thing is clear: Germany is quickly adopting the new technologies emerging in the marketplace. Electric car sales were up 137% from July 2016 to July 2017, while Diesel car sales were down by 14%.
Will your next car be an electric vehicle? Or will you wait until the self-driving cars hit the roads?