Recycling has been on my mind. How does New Zealand measure up globally? I went to Mr Google and learned a lot, thanks to Green Living Press, which I am about to liberally quote.

With environmental sins frowned on in its culture, Germany leaves the rest of Western civilisation behind with its sheer discipline in the art of recycling.

In a typical German city you find around five types of bins outside apartment complexes and inside residences. Bins are colour-coded in a five part system: a yellow bin for packaging, a blue bin for paper and cardboard, bins for glass (divided further into amber, green and clear glass), a "bio" bin for left-over food and plant waste, and a black bin for everything else.

A few areas of Italy have adopted similar five-bin systems.

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The French are rather picky about having too many recycling options. Thus, in a city like Paris, you will see three types of bins - white for glass, yellow for paper, metal and plastic, and green for all other trash. According to council officials, Parisians won't accept any more options.

An undeniable reason for the fastidiousness of Swiss recycling is that its citizens are charged for every individual bag of trash, whereas recycling is free. The Swiss must put a sticker on each 7.7-gallon (30 litre) bag ready for pickup, at a cost of about 1 euro a sticker.

There's no penalty for not having a sticker; an unidentified bag is just left behind. This is a strong financial incentive for minimising waste, mainly because it gives the Swiss more control over their pocketbooks.

Germany's Green Dot system, started in 1991, requires companies selling packaged goods to pay licence fees to fund a private "dual system" that collects and recycles packaging. This provides an incentive for companies to reduce their amount of packaging materials.

Now 25 other countries are adopting similar Green Dot programmes.

Waste incinerators have taken over in Western Europe as an effective, green way of dealing with the rest of the trash. Switzerland uses the energy from municipal incinerators to produce electricity and affordable steam heat used to fuel industry and heat public buildings. There is a strong market for burnable trash in Switzerland.

Denmark, however, has taken waste incineration to a whole new level. It currently has 29 modern incineration plants, which convert most of its waste into heat and electricity. This has reduced reliance on gas and oil, as well as its energy costs. One plant in Horsholm provides 80 per cent of the city's heat and 20 per cent of its electricity. And only about 5 per cent of the city's garbage ends up in landfills.

Doesn't all this burning of trash pollute the environment with harmful fumes? The simple answer, says Green Living Press, is "not really". State-of-the-art filtering technology catches all the mercury, dioxins, nitrogen oxides, and other potential pollutants before they can be released into the atmosphere.

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The big question remains: How do we get the New Zealanders as excited as Berliners about recycling? It all comes down to money and public image. The financial incentives remain strong as ever if the government chooses to collaborate with private industry. Recycling merely needs to become chic, as it has in Western Europe.David Scoullar is a keen tramper and conservationist and member of the Te Araroa Whanganui Trust.