Munich’s different approach to Plastic Waste Disposal

By Jana Walbaum. Edited: Bettina Renner

As well as all over the world, in Germany, each city prides itself on individual characteristics. Genuinely, the word of mouth about Munich´s uniqueness revolves around the Octoberfest, Beer, Mountains, and Luxurious Car Production. But did you also know that the way Munich disposes of its plastic waste is different to almost every other part of Germany? You will discover now whether it is an efficient way of waste disposal or not.

In Germany, residual waste is incinerated while for plastics there is the legal obligation for recycling. To ensure such separation, Munich’s waste disposal systems contains and combines two types of collection:

  • The pickup system: Waste is collected at each residential area and will be picked up biweekly. In Munich, there are three bins for this. A brown one for organic waste, a black one for residual waste and a blue one for paper which are picked up by two companies called Remondis and Wichmann
  • The bring system: Citizens must bring their glasses, cans, and plastics to waste points around 400 m away from each house. There are three separate containers, but in the future glass and cans will go into the same one. These containers are emptied by the municipal waste disposal company of Munich called AWM.

Theoretically, this system looks viable but compared to other cities, Munich’s waste disposal system has a flaw.

In other areas of Germany, they use either a yellow sack or a yellow bin – integrated into the pickup system – to collect plastic waste. This method is less time consuming and more practical for people. Additionally, it prevents some citizens from throwing plastics in the residual waste to skip the walk to the waste points. An analysis conducted by the AWM in 2017, showed that the amount of plastic in residual waste is 10.2% in Munich. The average in Germany is 3.5% lower. As residual waste is completely burned, this will also happen to the included plastics. During the incineration of plastic materials, various air-polluting substances are emitted. Some of them can cause harm as they are carcinogenic. In addition, plastic has no chance to be recycled, although there is a legal obligation to do so. Consequently, Munich must find an alternative to its current system.

Munich’s authorities already stated that yellow sacks would destroy the cityscape. But yellow bins could be implemented in Munich if the infrastructure is adapted. This means additional trucks must pick up the plastic waste and empty the yellow bins at each house. The spokeswoman of Remondis has stated that this adaptation is possible. 

Is the yellow sack or bin the optimal solution? 

It seems easy yes, but two points still need to be considered:

1. General mis-sorting: In other regions in Bavaria, the quantity of residual waste in the yellow sack or bin is 50 % which is of course also wrong. Moreover, the Federal Association for Secondary Raw Materials and Waste Disposal claims up to 60 % of general separation mistakes in some parts of Germany. But in these parts, the yellow sack or bin is used. Hence, an optimized separation by using an additional bin cannot be guaranteed. Instead, raising awareness is seen as the key instrument for a better separation rate. People must become educated about what kind of trash goes into which bin and why it is so important to be strict with that. 

Up to 60% of residual waste ends up in the yellow sack or bin in some part of Germany

2. Relevance of the collected data: The analysis of plastic in residual waste by the AWM was conducted in 2017. Back then, environmental awareness was lower. In a population survey conducted by the Federal Environment Agency in 2019, 68 % of respondents rate environmental and climate protection as a very important challenge, which is 15 % higher than in 2016. Consequently, current data from the AWM would be needed to draw conclusions about changed separating behaviour and thereby, to assess the effectiveness of a system change.  

To efficiently collect this new data, I would suggest a trial period in one district of Munich where the yellow bin will be implemented. After a certain period, the separation rates can be compared to each other. The more effective system will be then used in the whole city, combined with an ongoing campaign to educate the public. But the first step right now is to show the politicians that action is needed.

Tamara Ehm, a student from the LMU, recently started a petition and if you want to support her, you can sign it under the following link until the 21.06.2021

About the Author: Jana Walbaum is studying Sustainable Resource Management at TU Munich. Her academic focus is dedicated to Sustainable Innovations and Waste Management. She did her undergraduate studies in the German Army in Public Administration.


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Munich’s different approach to Plastic Waste Disposal

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