I have now finished my second week living in Germany and I am still amazed by the little things I notice every day that contribute to living a more sustainable and eco-friendly life. However, for my first post, I am going to focus on my initial thoughts upon arrival and the biggest differences in sustainable practices between Freiburg and small American cities.
Immediately after stepping off the train in Freiburg, I noticed the massive amount of public transportation. The tram system really caught my eye; much like a subway, but far more aesthetic and completely above ground. In the center of most of the streets in Freiburg exist two separate sets of tracks that seamlessly blend into the cobblestone roads or “Kopfsteinplasterstraßen” as they say in German. These trams are probably the most common form of transportation in and around the city of Freiburg. They can get you wherever you need to go very quickly as they have the right of way over all traffic and stop every two or so minutes. Also, I have yet to wait for more than three minutes at any stop for a tram to arrive. Upon arrival I immediately bought a month long pass for the price of $45 although I have yet to have my pass checked while riding the tram so it seems as though one could easily get by riding for free. Included with this pass are infinite weekend train rides to surrounding regions in southwestern Germany. Just yesterday, some friends and I rode a half hour southeast, deeper into the Black Forest or “Schwarzwald” for a hike to a waterfall at no extra cost. On the train I witnessed commuting workers and families headed skiing and hiking. Luckily I was placed in a flat within walking distance to the city center and all of my classes, however, I have friends that use the tram system every day to commute to classes from their apartments in the suburban neighborhoods of Freiburg. While the larger American cities have public transportation systems, in my experience most of the smaller ones near the size of Freiburg still rely mainly on privately owned cars, which I believe, make cities less pedestrian friendly.
Once arriving in my flat, my new German roommates immediately showed me the system of recycling and trash disposal. In America, most cities have one bin for recycling and one for garbage. In Freiburg however, there are four. Living in Germany, or at least in Freiburg, it is your own responsibility to separate your recyclable waste. There is one bin for plastics, one for paper, one for glass, and then the Restmüll where the remainder of garbage is disposed. I was surprised to see that literally any type of plastic can be recycled in the plastic bin. Anything from plastic food wrap to potato chip bags to hard plastics can be placed in the yellow bin. The paper bin accepts all forms of paper and the glass bottles are all placed in the other. The non-recyclables are then put in the Restmüll. There are labeled dumpsters outside the buildings for each form of waste, but there are three different ones for glass of each color. So far, I have emptied all of my recycling bins but I have yet to empty my Restmüll due to the fact that I create so little garbage when all forms of plastic can be recycled. Also, any can or bottle may be returned to the grocery store for far more money than they can be in the U.S. One can or plastic bottle usually gives you 25-euro cents and only some glass bottles can be exchanged. This incentive to return your bottles exists because when purchasing a bottle or can of something, a fee of 25-euro cents is added to the price of that bottle and is then returned to you once you bring the bottle or can back. If you do not return your bottles, groceries become far more expensive.
As I spend more time in Freiburg, I will continue to post about the many practices that make Freiburg a truly green city. I have already noticed so many and I am very excited to continue finding more.