After a recent, long vacation (well, by American standards, anyway!) in which I generated a lot of waste and feel guilty about it, I've been reading about zero waste lifestyle habits. While I wouldn't necessarily dive into that lifestyle completely, I'm always interested in environmentalism and am taking steps to further reduce the resources I use (and to try to atone for the vacation's use of food in containers).
What I love about Germany is that as a whole people here do tend to show concern for the environment. The European Environmental Agency reports that Germany comes in second place for the highest amount of recycling in Europe at a rate of 62% (1). The country is moving away from using nuclear-produced power and is investing in wind and solar power.
As I've talked with some locals, we've had conversations about the environment and they've said how of course it's the right thing to do to recycle and to use less energy. It's not difficult to put this concern into action; groups like Foodsharing, help keep still-edible food from the garbage bin. Volunteers visit bakeries, grocery stores, etc. and pick up food that is still very usable but might be a day old or near its sell-by date and is still safe to eat, and then they give it away for free, especially concentrating on the needy (though often anyone can pick some of it up).
Some communities, including Kaiserslautern, offer Repair Cafes. Instead of throwing away a pair of jeans with a hole in them, or that appliance that just doesn't run right any more, attendees can bring their items by to see if volunteers (including electricians, folks who are handy with a sewing machine, etc.) can fix them. Items can find some added years of usefulness after a repair; the Cafe suggests a small donation for the work, which is much less expensive than taking the item to a shop or replacing it.
On the commercial front, stores do not automatically give customers free bags and shoppers are encouraged to bring their own bags. If a customer requires a bag, the store charges for it.
Some stores have gone a step further; for example, the Unverpackt ("unpackaged") stores sell products unpackaged, or with minimal packaging. How does this work? One can either bring her own containers, or can buy reusable containers in the store, and can then select the amount of food from a bin. Usually one would weigh the container, record that weight, fill it, and weigh it again, paying for the merchandise but not for the weight of the container. I'm happy to see that there are Unverpackt stores within an hour or so of Kaiserslautern, in Mainz, Saarbrücken, and a future store in Mannheim.
All of these examples are just scratching the surface of what is done both locally and nationally in Germany to support a healthier environment. It's refreshing to see that there are options to help protect the environment, and that Germans see it as their responsibility to take part.
1. Highest recycling rates in Austria and Germany – but UK and Ireland show fastest increase. (2016, June 03). Retrieved October 26, 2017, from https://www.eea.europa.eu/media/newsreleases/highest-recycling-rates-in-austria