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July 2007

Waste Management

“I know a man who doesn’t pay to have his trash taken out,” claimed American comedian Henny Youngman. “He gift wraps it, and puts it into an unlocked car.” Whether the rest of us are good citizens, or simply not willing to wander the city with bags of trash, almost all of us are loyal participants in the community waste management system. AWM Munich—our local waste management company—is Germany’s largest. Its more than 1,300 employees empty 390,000 containers at 12 recycling centers each day. Almost 60% of collected waste is recycled in some way, and the rest is turned into power and heat at power plants. Hardly any is left over.

The core of Munich ’s excellent waste management is a colored bin system. Private residences house a series of 80 to 1100 liter bins into which trash is sorted. Every one or two weeks, AWM collects the bins and drives them to the nearest recycling center to be emptied. The cost for the bins and disposal are usually included in the Nebenkosten that you pay your landlord. You can find the bins in your building’s courtyard or out back. A few areas in and around Munich use special colored bags instead of bins, but your landlord will inform you about these particularities when you move in.

Blue bins are for paper and cardboard, excepting any laminated cardboard or paper like that used for food or drink containers. Ripping it into small pieces will leave room for your neighbors’ newspapers. Also be sure to remove any plastic or metal attachments, since the contents of this bin are recycled into new paper.

Brown or green bins—Bio Tonne—hold waste for producing compost. You may put some tissues or crumpled newspaper in this bin to absorb fluids, but everything else must be organic. (Never throw rat-attracting meat or bones into the Bio Tonne.) The city of Munich runs several plants for producing compost out of organic waste, and we all enjoy the end result: year-round roadside flower decorations.

Everything else—packaging materials and the aforementioned food leftovers—goes into the black Restmüll, or household waste container. Some residences may also have a yellow container labeled Verpackung for packing plastic materials.

The most important recyclable materials are glass and plastic bottles, which are sorted into colors. Individuals usually produce too little of this waste to warrant courtyard bins. Instead, Munich has several so-called garbage-collecting-islands, which consist of large white containers with sections for glass and plastic materials. Be sure to consider the time you deliver your bottles, so you don ’t wake up your neighborhood with the sounds of smashed party souvenirs.

If you have to to discard bulky pieces like old furniture, broken appliances, computers, large amounts of garden waste, cardboard boxes or construction debris, load up your car and head to the next Wertstoffhof, or recycling center. The addresses and opening times of each are available at AWM waste management website. The helpful staff will aid you in unloading heavy pieces, but be sure you have separated all of your waste very carefully, because they watch deliveries with a wary eye.

If the load is too big for you car, or you don’t feel like being a truck driver for bulky refuse, call the center to schedule a pickup: (089) 23 39 62 00. You may also schedule an appointment online at AWM waste management website. AWM charges € 27 per 15 minutes of loading time. (They do not dismantle kitchen sets or other large items.)

Collection of toxic waste (paint, lacquers, or cleaning materials, for example) occurs at regular intervals, of which you will be informed in the newspaper or at AWM waste management website. Luckily, for a lot of toxic items, the “polluter pays” principle is in effect: Pharmacies have to take back unused or outdated medicine, and every store that sells batteries must provide a collection place for used ones. (Never throw batteries into the normal garbage; they’re one of the worst groundwater contaminants.) In addition, every store is legally bound to offer free packaging waste disposal. Customers can choose products with less packaging materials, or simply leave the unnecessary trappings right at the checkout.

All of this behavior might seem strange at first, but the gorgeous Bavarian environment is a constant reminder to protect it. With knowledge of these guidelines, participating in Munich’s efficient waste management system is easy—and probably more so than finding an unlocked car.

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