When Garbage Sorting Gets Complicated
My wife has been losing sleep because she’s afraid she is misclassifying a lot of the garbage at our German apartment. There is much more insistence on recycling in Germany (and much of Europe) than in the U.S.
We have four different containers in front of our building: paper (blue), packaging (yellow), biological (green), and the rest (gray) — and that doesn’t include the containers for three different kinds of glass (green, brown, and old) at the local park.
We are confused about what goes where and spend lots of time transferring refuse from one container in our apartment to another before deciding where to throw them outside. We’re probably right most of the time — and the additional sorting beyond what we do in the U.S. (where we only have garbage, paper, and glass/plastic containers) does reduce the negative externalities to the environment.
At the same time, the transactions costs of garbage sorting here are substantial, and I wonder if they can be justified by the environmental improvement that results. Our time has value, and that is being ignored.
Perhaps the best argument in favor of this extra work is that people learn to sort garbage by doing; so after a while, even for temporary residents like us, the transactions costs are lower while the environmental gains remain.