Innovative system in Freiburg reuses everything

Nature produces no garbage. Some inhabitants of this planet have realized that we will live better if we don’t burden nature and produce as little waste as possible. In Freiburg, a German city of 210,000 residents in the Rhine Valley, three waste-management stations operate in the foothills of the Black Forest. They are not for common urban waste, which is managed elsewhere, but for all those items, such as old furniture and appliances, that we don’t want but don’t know how to dispose of. A visit to them is an unforgettable experience. It’s Saturday morning, and a line of cars is waiting out in front of the unit. All of them are loaded up with objects ranging from old doors and windows to computers, bicycles, ski poles and toys. Every type of waste has its place here, a room where trained staff are waiting to receive it and handle it appropriately. Any old furniture that is still usable is set aside in a special place to be priced. Once a week, students and others on low incomes can buy items of furniture at a symbolic price of around 10 euros. Electrical appliances are stored in another area where they are dismantled so their parts can be used as spares. In one corner of the recycling center is a caravan where toxic waste is put. Half-finished paints, drugs past their expiry date, and unused detergents end up in the caravan. A chemistry student from the city’s university collects the toxic waste and separates it according to the chemicals it contains so as to make it easier to process. Inside the unit there are huge skips for wooden furniture that is beyond repair. And, as we learn later, that is also put to use. Why do all these people spend their free time on things they can’t use, on trash? Because they have no other choice; this is the cheapest way to get rid of it. It is prohibited to leave it in the street, and if they call the recycling factory to collect it, they will pay a hefty fee. There is such a factory that makes money from discarded objects just 500 meters away from the waste-management unit. That is where the discarded furniture in the bins at the unit goes to be made into valuable chippings. Every month, more then 10 freight trains leave the factory with loads of chippings for furniture factories in Italy. That is how your fancy Italian table might be made of chippings from Freiburg. It means much less waste. The same factory sorts paper so it can be recycled better. Of course, the city already has an extremely well-organized waste-reduction and management system with separate bins for various types of waste. This didn’t just happen out of the blue, it is just that in Freiburg they decided on a different solution for garbage, because their dump was full (sound familiar?). Instead of searching the city to see where they could put a new dump, they decided to reduce the volume of waste that went to the old one. They started an extensive waste reduction and recycling program and within 10 years the volume of garbage taken to the dump has decreased by 60 percent, thus greatly prolonging its life.

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