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世界上最擅長回收的德國人,也拿一次性塑料制品沒辦法

Kaherine Dunn 2019年04月29日

即便是世界上最擅長回收的德國人,也仍面臨著一個撓頭的問題,為什么這么多可回收利用的塑料制品,最終還是被丟進了垃圾桶?

德國人對待垃圾回收非常嚴肅。圖片來源:Thomas Lohnes—Getty Images

吉莉安·約克自認為是一個非常擅長垃圾回收的人。

畢竟,她小時住在新罕布什爾州時,就是一個非常注重資源回收的人。后來她搬到了舊金山居住。2013年,她又搬到了伯林,而這時她卻面臨著一個迫切的問題。

玻璃瓶應該怎么處理?

廢紙和塑料處理起來是非常簡單的,只需將它們收集起來,分門別類地扔進那種在德國隨處可見的按顏色區分的垃圾箱即可。但這里卻沒有裝瓶子的垃圾箱。

約克是一名言論自由活動人士。她表示:“我家里的玻璃瓶越堆越多,德國朋友來我家時都會說:‘你有麻煩了’。”

當然,解決辦法也不是沒有。你可以把它們拖到附近的小賣店里賣一點錢,也可以把他們留給收破爛的,然后從他們手里換錢。(然而無論采取哪種方式,都是有風險的——這也是德國舉世聞名的垃圾回收政策的關鍵問題。)

在德國生活一段時間后,約克購買了一個家用的按顏色分類的垃圾箱,學會了如何正確地拆解包裝。如果她在街上找不到明顯可以回收塑料瓶的地方,就會把它們帶回家處理。她已經完全被同化成了一個德國人。

“我成了他們中的一員了。”她說。

看到這里,你可能已經猜到了,德國人對待垃圾回收是極為嚴肅的。

德國在垃圾回收利用率上常年排名世界第一,緊隨其后的是奧地利。

Jillian York thought she knew how to recycle.

After all, she had spent a childhood diligently recycling in New Hampshire, and was living in San Francisco. But when she moved to Berlin in 2013, she faced an urgent question.

Where do the glass bottles go?

The paper and plastic was simple enough: collect and sort into a series of color-coded bins ubiquitous in German neighborhoods. But there was no bin for the bottles.

“They were just piling up in my house,” says York, who works as a free speech activist. “German friends came over and they said, ‘you have a situation.’”

The fix: lug the bottles to a nearby grocery store to exchange for a small rebate, or leave them for someone else to pick up and pocket the cash. (Either way there’s money at stake—a key to Germany’s world-renowned recycling program.)

From there, York bought her own indoor, multi-colored sorting bin, learned how to properly disassemble packaging, and started carting home plastic bottles when there was nowhere obvious to recycle them on the street. Her assimilation was complete.

“I’ve become one of them,” she says.

Germans, as you might have guessed, take recycling extremely seriously.

The country typically ranks first in the world for collection rates. Austria comes second.

杜塞爾多夫街頭的垃圾回收箱,這種垃圾回收箱在德國隨處可見。圖片來源:Insights/UIG via Getty Images

諷刺的是,讓約克最頭疼的玻璃瓶,卻是德國人最不擔心的——它們是最容易回收利用的物品之一。而玻璃瓶外面的塑料包裝紙則是另一回事了。

全世界都非常重視塑料制品對環境造成的損害。現在越來越多的國家對塑料制品加強了監管,比如歐盟通過投票決定,到2021年前,要禁止10種一次性塑料制品。然而即便是世界上最擅長回收的德國人,也仍面臨著一個撓頭的問題,為什么這么多可回收利用的塑料制品,最終還是被丟進了垃圾桶?

阿喀琉斯之踵

現代化的回收利用,是隨著上世紀70年代的環境保護運動興起的。到上世紀90年代,德國制定了一部《主要包裝法》。到今天,根據歐洲統計局2017年的數據,德國回收了其近68%的家庭垃圾。相比之下,英國的回收率為44%,美國僅為26%。

一些專家認為,德國的成功要歸功于它的玻璃瓶處理方案,還有一些人歸功于德國無所不在的垃圾分類系統。德國對于回收多少廢品是有強制配額的。包裝物的生產商們還要給一個叫做“綠點系統”的回收計劃交錢,德國用于的垃圾回收分類的資金基本都來自這個計劃。

還有一部分人的結論更加簡單——因為那是“良心下水道”的德國人嘛。

德累斯頓科技大學的廢物管理與循環經濟學家克里斯蒂娜·多納克表示:“對我來說,回收是融在血液里的一種本能。德國人天生就遵守規則。”

不過,就連德國人也在與廢品界的“阿喀琉斯之踵”作斗爭——也就是那些一次性塑料制品。

德國幾乎回收了所有能回收的塑料缺品,然而對于塑料包裝品的實際回收率,只有48%多一點。

“這就是我們面臨的挑戰。” 多納克表示。

設計與經濟學

問題是,有好幾種塑料廢品是很難回收利用的。英國艾倫麥克阿瑟基金會發起的“新塑料經濟”運動指出,盡管這些廢品也被回收了,但它們并沒有再次進入經濟循環,而是最終與普通垃圾一樣進了填埋場。

僅舉幾個例子:一是非常容易掉進縫隙里的小片塑料(比如醬油包)。二是上面放了太多食物的塑料(比如快餐盒)。三是回收前要單獨拆開的包裝物(比如薯片的袋子)。最后是用“不常見”的塑料制作的物品——并不是說它們不能被回收利用,只是它們的數量太少,不足以形成經濟規模。另外它們還會污染其它塑料制品(比如藥品的吸塑包裝)。

這意味著,一旦政府建立了一套可以正確分類和收集廢物的系統,塑料回收就會遇到兩個問題,一是設計問題,二是經濟問題。(之前有一個解決方案,就是把所有垃圾運到中國去。現在這條路已經走不通了。)

“新塑料經濟”運動的領導者羅勃·奧普索默表示,很多包裝物“都被設計成了無法回收的東西”。企業如果對設計進行投資,將塑料制品設計得易于回收,則可以在一定程度上解決這個問題。比如將塑料制品設計得更簡潔,減少層次和材料的種類等等。

經濟問題也包含了兩個方面,一是回收系統本身是要花錢的(在美國,很多市一級的政府甚至掏不起這筆錢)。二是很多地方生產的回收材料,可能甚至超出了企業想要購買的量——這也是德國面臨的一個難題。多納克表示,很多制造商都對回收的塑料不感興趣,因為他們認為這些塑料的質量比較差。他們還是更喜歡使用“原裝”的塑料,因為他們認為這些“原裝”塑料更便宜、干凈和耐用。

德國正試圖解決所有這些問題。解決方案是什么呢?當然是出臺更多的規則。

今年1月1日生效的新《包裝法》提高了回收的目標,并致力于推動減少浪費。德國致力于將塑料制品的總體回收目標從當前的60%提高到2022年的90%。該法律敦促企業在產品中使用更多的可回收材料,并設計更好的包裝。

專家表示,這些措施與對一次性塑料制品的禁令是相輔相成的。減少一次性塑料制品,意味著回收系統會變得更加強大。二者起到互相促進的作用。

約克表示,盡管如此,德國還是會有不少普通的垃圾回收者傷心地意識到,自己辛辛苦苦對垃圾進行收集和分類,結果很多努力都是徒勞的。

她表示:“不要讓這種事情發生,人們會很難過的。”(財富中文網)

譯者:樸成奎

Ironically, York’s glass bottles are the least of Germany’s worries—they’re among the easiest items to recycle or reuse. The plastic packaging they often come in, however, is another matter.

The world has rightfully become obsessed with plastic and the toll it takes on the environment. But as new plastic-related regulation gains traction—the European Union voted to ban 10 types of single-use plastics by 2021—there’s a question still dogging even the world’s best recycler: Why do so many recycled plastic items still end up in the trash?

The Achilles Heel

Modern recycling as we know it really took off with the environmental movement of the 1970s. By the 1990s, Germany was putting into place its main packaging law. Fast forward to present day, and Germany recycles nearly 68% of its household waste, according to 2017 figures from Eurostat, Europe’s statistical agency. That compares to recycling rates of 44% for the U.K., and 26% for the U.S.

Some experts attribute Germany’s success to the deposit scheme for glass bottles, others to the ubiquity of the sorting system. There are mandatory quota systems for how much product must be recycled, and packaging producers pay into a scheme, called the “Green Dot System,” that covers collection and sorting.

Others attribute the success simply to, well, the Germans.

“For me, it’s in the blood,” says Christina Dornack, an expert in waste management and circular economy at the Technische Universit?t Dresden. “The Germans are ready to follow the rules,” she says.

But even they struggle with the achilles heel of waste—the material that the single-use plastic ban is designed to eliminate.

Germany collects virtually all of its plastic packaging for the purpose of recycling. But the actual recycling rates for that same packaging is just over 48%.

“That is the challenge,” says Dornack.

Design and Economics

The trouble is, there are several types of plastic waste that are difficult to recycle. They usually end up alongside run-of-the-mill trash in landfills, despite well-meaning recycling efforts, according to the U.K.-based Ellen MacArthur Foundation’s New Plastics Economy initiative.

The first is tiny pieces of plastic that can easily fall through the cracks (think: your soy sauce packet). Then there’s plastic that simply has too much food on it (think: your fast food container). Next is packaging made of materials that would have to be separated before they can be recycled (think: that crinkly chip bag). Finally, there are products made from “uncommon” plastics—it’s not that they can’t be recycled, it’s just that there is not enough of it to make it economical. Plus, they contaminate all the other plastic (think: that blister pack of pills).

That means once a municipality sets up a program that can correctly sort and collect waste, recycling plastic runs into two problems: design, and economics. (One previous solution—send all that waste to China—is no longer an option.)

A lot of packaging is “just designed in a way that it cannot be recycled,” says Rob Opsomer, who leads the New Plastics Economy. That could be partly solved by companies investing in designing plastic that is easy to recycle: simpler and more streamlined, with less layering of different materials.

The economic problem, meanwhile, is two-fold: the recycling system itself must be paid for (in the U.S., many municipalities simply can’t afford it); and then—a conundrum that Germany’s facing—localities may produce more recycled material than companies want to buy. Manufacturers are often turned off by recycled plastic because they perceive it to be of lower quality, Dornack says. They’d rather use “virgin” plastic, which is cheap, clean, and durable.

Germany is trying to address all of this. Its solution? More rules, naturally.

A new packaging law that went into effect on January 1 increases recycling goals, and pushes to reduce waste. By 2022, the recycling target for plastic overall will rise to 90%, up from the current target of 60%. The new legislation urges companies to use more recyclable material in their products and design better packaging.

Those moves actually go hand in hand with single-use plastic bans, say experts. Less disposable plastic means a stronger recycling system. The two, in effect, reinforce each other.

Still, the average German recycler would be gutted to realize so much of their collecting and sorting regimen has been in vain, York says.

“Don’t let that get out,” she says. “People are going to be so upset.”

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