Klimakatastrophe was selected by the Gesellschaft für deutsche Sprache as the “Wort des Jahres” (Word of the Year) in 2007.

Klimakatastrophe is a word that became popular in 2007 to describe the effects of climate change.  Whether it be natural disasters, global warming, or melting icecaps – they are all grouped as part of the Klimakatastrophe.

Although environmental issues have played an important role for the last 20 years in Germany, a number of events in the past few years and media coverage such as the film Eine unbequeme Wahrheit (An Inconvenient Truth), have served to highlight the them even further.

To hear a simple explanation and a short discussion in German, listen to the podcast:

(Press the “play” button to listen to the podcast)

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One-way deposit bottles: Einwegpfandflaschen

Germany used to be really progressive in terms of recycling and deposit bottles.  Whilst the days of glass deposit bottles in the UK disappeared at the end of the 1970s, Germany still today charges a small deposit on plastic bottles.

The difference is that, when I first came to live in Germany there was only a deposit on recyclable bottles.  Recently, all that has changed.

Some years ago someone worked out that too many tin cans were being thrown away and not recycled.  The cans belonged in the so-called Grüne Punkt system – that’s usually the yellow rubbish bag or bin.  Too few cans were finding their way into the system and thus were not being recycled.  To combat this problem a deposit was introduced on cans and the had to be taken back to the supermarket.

This was thwart with problems.  Not all cans were affected – it depended on what was in them.  The cans could not be crushed, so you had to collect them in a good state and return them to the supermarket, who then had to store them to recycling.  And finally, there was no central system to recycling the cans.  Each chain or even shop required you to produce the receipt from when you purchased the can, and would only takes ones that they had sold back.

I remember once going away from the weekend and buying a can at a service station on the motorway.  I had to return it to that very same service station on the way back – on the other side of the motorway.  Of course, I had to prove that I had bought it there a couple of days before.

So in the end, a lot of supermarkets stopped stocking cans.  That’s another way of solving the problem, I guess.

The next stop was to put a deposit on non-recyclable bottles.  For some reason this deposit is higher than on the bottles that can be recycled.  Again, it took a while for a system to be agreed and until then every chain had their own system.

Even now, you can only return one of these bottles to a shop that sells that product.  So if you buy a shop’s own brand, then you have to return the bottle to them.  The machine that you put them into even scans the barcode to make sure of it!  If the barcode is missing, then the deposit is lost.

Which leads me back to my motorway problem.  Recently I bought a large bottle of a soft drink on a motorway service station.  To avoid any problems, I wanted to return it on the other side of the motorway on the return journey.

Do you think that they accepted the bottle?  Of course they didn’t – “we don’t sell that size of bottle here” was the answer.  They had the same drink on sale in a different size bottle.  (For some reason they wanted to tell me this in English as well, which didn’t go down well).

I insisted that I had purchased the bottle at their other store on the other side of the motorway, but they didn’t believe me.  “OK”, I said, “then I’ll go out to my car and fetch the receipt.  But if I do, and I’m right, then I expect you to accept the bottle and give me my deposit back”.  This did not go down well – a customer putting his foot down.  The cashier reached into the till and begrudgingly took the bottle and gave me my money.  Did they really think I was going to keep the bottle and take it back with me on another trip to the original side?

Low-energy housing – a thing of the past?

I was thinking the other day about how many electrical appliances run, even when they are not “directly” in use.
I don’t mean simple things like a television on standby, but things that in a sense need power, such as a video recorder or radio-alarm clock.
However much I attempt to reduce my power consumption (or “carbon footprint”), eg. by using bio-fuels or switching to renewable power sources, things still run on electricity.
Take the humble telephone.  In the old days they used power from the phone line.  These days I use a telephone exchange and cordless phones – all of which require power to run that is not supplied down the phone line.  And I can’t turn them off, in case someone rings!
Thinking back to my childhood in the 1970s, I worked out that our house used almost no energy at night whatsoever.  There was no video recorder waiting to record, no answerphone waiting for a call.  Heating was provided for by a coal-burning boiler, which went out at night and had to be re-lit in the morning.  My alarm clock had to be wound up before I went to sleep!
I am pretty sure that the only thing in the house consuming any power at night was the fridge!
Why can things not be so simple today?  Our modern society is so reliant on electricity, that instead of finding ways to consume less, we seem to be looking for better ways of producing it.
How about looking into ways of saving it instead?

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