local community

Bottled gold – the unexpected side effects of recycling in Germany

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A German recycling scheme is proving to be a source of relief for those on low-incomes, but is it also having an impact on recycling levels as a whole?

For pensioners and the unemployed in Berlin, summer marks a particularly welcome time of the year for making a spot of extra cash. As Berliners head to the park to enjoy sunshine, barbecues and a casual drink with friends and family, the hunt for empty leftover bottles begins.

Introduced in 2003 by the then Social Democrat/Green coalition government, the ‘bottle recycling deposit return scheme’, known as the Deutsche Pfandsystem (or ‘Pfand’ for short) in Germany, requires large drink retailers to charge an additional €0.08 to €0.25 for every drink purchased at a store depending on the material of the bottle. The consumer can then redeem that money by bringing their emptied bottles back to the shop and recycling them instead of simply throwing them away.

The rationale behind the scheme is both to reduce waste and encourage recycling of single-use products, as well as to develop an environmental consciousness among the German population. In a world where more than 100 million plastic bottles are used everyday worldwide, and with only one out of five being recycled (the rest becoming litter buried underground or ending up in our ocean’s waters), mindfulness about current global consumption patterns is a vital step towards a sustainable future.

Thanks to Pfand, over 97 per cent of plastic and glass bottles are now recycled in Germany. At first sight, the scheme appears to be a resonating success. However, the motivation behind the bottle collection scheme has increasingly become driven by economic and social factors rather than genuine environmental concerns. As such, Pfand is bringing to light the challenges faced by the least privileged part of the German population every day.

When Pfand started operating in 2003, it was mainly homeless people, alcoholics and drug addicts that would rummage the bins in the search of this ‘bottled gold’. However, by 2005, unemployment rates had soared to 13 per cent and an estimated one out of every seven Berliners was said to be living on the verge of poverty. Since then, an increasing number of jobless people and pensioners have been spotted engaging in bottle-collecting activities in the hope of making ends meet. Sabine Werth, head of Berliner Tafel, a non-profit organisation that distributes food donations to local charities comments: ‘The number of unemployed collectors has probably doubled in the past few years. This is a symptom of an inadequate social system struggling to cope with a rising number of elderly people and unemployed.’ Recycling plastic bottles is being seen as a way to provide a cash boost to those with under-performing pensions.

Bottle recycling is being seen by Berlin’s unemployed as a cash resource (Image: Barbara Wheeler)Bottle recycling is being seen by Berlin’s unemployed as a cash resource (Image: Barbara Wheeler/Shutterstock)

However, fighting poverty does not seem to be the only reason bottle-collecting has become increasingly popular. ‘For the older generation it provides a sense of purpose,’ says Werth. ‘They see it as a reason to get out of the house and come into contact with people.’ Günther, a former mechanic who had to retire early due to illness, adds that this new-found activity helps him fight loneliness as people on the street often strike up conversation with each other. ‘I get to meet all sorts of people, which can be fun,’ he says. ‘I had a job in a museum for a while, but I nearly died of loneliness in that place.’

Many Berliners are supporting the practice. Residents and party-goers often leave empty bottles in lines along the pavements or in a pile next to bins, allowing collectors to seize the coveted goods without having to rummage through waste. Communication design student Jonas Kakoschke took things one step further. In July 2011 he set up the website Pfandgeben.de. Two types of people can sign up to this online platform: collectors and disposers. The site allows residents who have bottles they wish to dispose of to find details of local collectors in their area and to contact them to arrange for a pick-up. The initiative became so popular it ended up expanding to Cologne, Augsburg and Essen. However, Werth admits that this new system only targets those who already have certain means (such as a mobile phone), leaving the most marginalised and destitute once more on the sideline.

Bottles piled by rubbish binBottles piled by rubbish bin for collectors to easily gather (Image: Jacky D/Shutterstock)

This increase in collection numbers is turning bottle recycling into a competitive business. Nowadays, collectors are not only having to fight for resources among each other, but are also needing to stand up to government and industrial backlash. In Stuttgart, the city council introduced bins that keep waste underground, allegedly to increase storage capacity, but social workers have been accusing the authorities of implementing defensive architecture in order to to push certain parts of the population out of the city centre.

Another downside of the German bottle scheme according to environmental pressure groups is that it reduces the incentive to introduce genuinely green reusable drink containers to the market by framing the recycling of single-use bottles as a sustainable alternative. Finally, because discount giants such as Aldi or Lidl need to keep prices low to stay competitive, they have been reintroducing non recyclable bottles to their shelves in order to avoid charging their customers the extra green deposit. Consequently, it is estimated that the number of recyclable bottles on the German market has dropped from 80 per cent to 50 per cent since 2003.

 

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Are you planning to walk further in 2019….?

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Hands up if you made a New Year resolution to get fitter, or meet new people in 2019?

Most of us reflect at this time of year and these are certainly achievable and popular resolutions. Walking with friends is an easy and accessible opportunity. Good news is that there is a growing network of walking groups for all abilities across Kincardine and Mearns.

The following are useful organisations and contacts;

1          Paths for All

Paths for All’s vision is for a happier, healthier Scotland where physical activity improves quality of life and wellbeing for all. Read the rest of this entry »

Future of our High Streets

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Over the past two decades, Britain’s high streets have been in decline as consumer behaviour has changed and economic pressures are causing retailers to close their shops. 

The Centre for Future Studies Innovation Centre, at Kent University, sponsored by Anchor, argues that it is the older generations who will be an economic force to be reckoned with in shaping the reinvention of the high street.

It says that it is those retailers who are able to reinvent their businesses who will survive and prosper. The report estimates that over the next ten years almost two-thirds of all retail spending growth will come from those aged over 55. It says that they are going to drive retail with their considerable purchasing power, shopping behaviour and preferences as retailers respond positively to the demand for elderly friendly shopping environments. Read the rest of this entry »

yang laji, ‘foreign garbage’

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China announced in July that from January 2018, it would no longer be accepting imports of 24 grades of solid waste because high levels of contamination were polluting the country’s environment. Furthermore, from March 2018, other imported materials with contamination levels above 0.5 per cent will also be banned. This is a slight relaxation of the 0.3 per cent originally announced, but it remains an extremely challenging goal. The acceptable level was previously set at 1.5 per cent.

The short notice given by China about this change in policy has been criticised as unreasonable by countries that export large quantities of waste. The EU, the USA, Canada, Australia and Korea have all called for a transition period of up to five years to prevent the collapse of the recycling industry.

Exporting recyclable waste to China has historically been extremely cost effective: firstly, because lower quality materials have been accepted; secondly, because there is a ready supply of cheap labour; and thirdly, because materials are shipped on the return journey by vessels carrying goods from China to Europe, which would otherwise be empty on their journey back to Asia. In the case of paper, a lot of this is used to make cardboard boxes for the goods that are subsequently shipped to Europe. This combination of factors has made it more cost effective to export waste to China than to process it in the UK.

The trade in waste plastic has helped fuel China’s manufacturing boom, but also contributed to the increase in UK local authorities accepting plastic for recycling in the early 2000s. However, many UK-based processing companies were driven out of business because of the Chinese market. As a result, there is now very little domestic capacity for recycling.

So, what does this mean for us?

Scotland is taking a strong stance on this, looking at alternatives to exporting our home-grown waste. A return to glass bottle schemes is being considered, along with investment in reprocessing facilities. Beyond this and other measures being considered, there is a need to go to the root of the problem and reduce our use of plastic.

We are at a watershed moment for the UK’s approach to waste. Many have acknowledged that China is quite right to take a firm stance on ‘foreign garbage’. For too long, the UK and other rich nations have allowed the booming Chinese market to mask the real issues around resource use, as well as turning a blind eye to the dumping of low-grade waste. We must start to see our waste as our responsibility, whether that is at a consumer level, a commercial level or in government.

For more information on Aberdeenshire’s approach to recycling visit http://www.aberdeenshire.gov.uk/waste/

To find out more about the impact plastics are having on our marine environment go to https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=uDDFUZRyoIs

The 100-Mile Diet.

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Following our look at whether local food is “better,” read about a Canadian couple who experimented with this approach….

When Alisa Smith and James MacKinnon learned that the average ingredient in a North American meal travels 1,500 miles from farm to plate, they decided to launch a simple experiment to reconnect with the people and places that produced what they ate. For one year, they would only consume food that came from within a 100-mile radius of their Vancouver apartment. The 100-Mile Diet was born.

The concept of the 100-mile diet forces a mental shift from eating globally to think more locally to ensure everything you eat is within a 100 mile radius of your table. Though going cold turkey into eating within such a restricted geographical region may not be for everyone you can start with a single family meal. This forces you to research and explore what’s actually grown close to your home and you’ll begin to appreciate not only the bounty of your local region, but the major implications of eating foods from around the world.

Choosing to consume food that is produced within 100 miles of your home comes with all of the benefits of local, seasonal eating: more flavourful foods, smaller environmental footprint, better health, and support for local farmers.

Alisa and James admit that finding local food sources took a lot of time.  Very little in a supermarket can be traced to where all the ingredients come from and many of the products contain oils, sugar or seasonings that have travelled vast distances.  So they set about finding just who did produce food in the Vancouver area. Unsurprisingly, one of the biggest challenges was finding carbohydrates during the ‘hungry gap’ before the new season’s harvest began – rice, pasta and bread were all unavailable leaving only potatoes.  Between them they lost 15 pounds in six weeks and were forced to loosen the rules slightly to include locally milled flour from grain that at least came from Canada. Summertime made life a little easier, with plentiful Farmer’s Markets a wealth of local foods. This did lead to its own problems though – many hours spent preserving foods for the long Canadian winter.

Is the 100 mile diet one that is realistic for your average person leading a busy life?  No, but it was never intended to be.  Alisa and James set themselves a high challenge to discover what the real issues with local food sourcing were.  In the process they did much more, attracting a world-wide audience and making a bold political statement.  This has led some people to label local food as the ‘new organic’ – something that seems to be at odds with the founder’s values which were very much attuned to sustainable organic food production.  However, local food sourcing is deservedly gaining attention and the 100 mile diet certainly struck a chord with many who believe in sustainable production.

Get Active Outdoors

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Parks, gardens, greenspaces, woodlands and local paths are ideal settings for a spot of green exercise. Perhaps you like to relax by taking a gentle stroll or by tidying up the garden. Maybe cycling to work starts the day on a high note or you look forward to evenings playing sport in the park.

Whatever pace you set yourself, being in the outdoors and getting active is great for your physical and mental health and well-being.

It’s recommended that adults do at least five 30-minute sessions of moderate exercise per week. For children, it’s at least 1 hour every day. Getting active outdoors could be an easy way for you to meet your target.

Learn about green exercise and its benefits.

Step to it

Parks and woods are a brilliant backdrop for your walk, cycle or jog. Soak up the surroundings and say hello to your neighbours as you get your daily dose of green exercise. You can probably reach your favourite local greenspace via a traffic-free route – so you can leave the car at home.

Active travel is another option if you struggle to set aside a specific time for outdoor exercise. Just choose to walk or cycle whenever you have to go somewhere and you’ll soon start to clock up the miles.

Discover your local path network today.

INTERNATIONAL DAY OF HAPPINESS

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A profound shift in attitudes is underway all over the world. People are now recognising that ‘progress’ should be about increasing human happiness and wellbeing, not just growing the economy.

March 20 has been established as the annual International Day of Happiness and all 193 United Nations member states have adopted a resolution calling for happiness to be given greater priority.

In 2011, the UN General Assembly adopted a resolution which recognised happiness as a “fundamental human goal” and called for “a more inclusive, equitable and balanced approach to economic growth that promotes the happiness and well-being of all peoples”.

In 2012 the first ever UN conference on Happiness took place and the UN General Assembly adopted a resolution which decreed that the International Day of Happiness would be observed every year on 20 March. It was celebrated for the first time in 2013.

In 2017, the Smurfs joined the UN in celebrating the International Day of Happiness as well as the 17 Sustainable Development Goals – #SmallSmurfsBigGoals

The details of 2018 celebrations have not yet been announced, but whatever you have planned for the day, be happy!