Sun, Apr 16, 2017 - Page 15 News List

Recycling-mad Germans turn to sharing to battle waste

Germany each year burns or destroys US$7.43 billion worth of ‘completely new’ products and throws away 18 million tonnes of food while nonprofit groups try to redistribute the bounty to charities

By Yannick Pasquet  /  AFP, COLOGNE, Germany

Innatura founder Juliane Kronen poses at a warehouse run by her nonprofit group in Cologne, Germany, on March 16.

Photo: AFP

In a warehouse in the western German city of Cologne, bottles of deodorant and shower gel plastered with the face of football manager Joachim Loew are stacked all the way up to the ceiling.

Whole pallets of the packages, a promotional offer for the Euro 2016 tournament, were headed for the incinerators once the final whistle sounded, but nonprofit group Innatura has saved them for charities.

Further east in Berlin, residents are leaving extra salad, yogurt or bread in common fridges sitting in inner courtyards for neighbors to help themselves, in another effort to cut down on wastage.

Despite its well-established recycling movement, Europe’s most populous nation still generates enormous amounts of unnecessary waste, from usable consumer products to still-edible food, and people are starting to think up new ways to change that.

Juliane Kronen of Innatura set up the cooperative four years ago, urging businesses to donate items that have to be removed from retailers’ shelves for some reason or other.

The group then redistributes the bounty to charities around Germany for a small consideration of between 5 and 20 percent of the list price.

Such forms of giving are a relative novelty in Germany, where heavy regulation can make giving away excess stock an expensive chore.

“It’s less expensive in Germany for a company to burn products than to give them away” due to a tax on donations, said Kronen, a lively 50-something entrepreneur sporting salt-and-pepper hair. “Every year in Germany we burn or destroy 7 billion euros’ [US$7.43 billion] worth of products.”

Kronen points out “completely new” packages of nappies, tubes of sun cream, dish soap, kitchen mixers and trainers stuffing the Innatura warehouse — about 1,500 different items in all.

Bizarre relics of an economy powered by exports and consumer spending are everywhere in this Aladdin’s cave.

In one corner lie boxes of deodorant sprays whose labels make them unsuitable for export since the EU imposed sanctions on Russia over the Ukraine conflict.

Further on are double-extra-large packages of dishwasher tablets from a forgotten limited-time-only offer — pulled from the shelves once the promotion was over.

Innatura has saved about 580 tonnes of products from the furnaces since Kronen founded the company four years ago, she said.

While organizations like Innatura are battling the tidal wave of perfectly usable items being thrown away and burned, others are working from the ground up to make the most of food that would otherwise be dumped.

Germans throw away more than 18 million tonnes of food every year, or 313kg every single second, according to WWF.

About 600km from Cologne, Berliner Fenja is making a small dent in that total as she opens the door of a clapped-out fridge in the courtyard of an apartment block in the northeastern Prenzlauer Berg District.

Once she has dropped off her chard vegetables and rocket leaf, Fenja posts the donation on the Foodsharing Internet platform to let other users know about it — as does neighbor Silvia, who has contributed a kilogram of onions and some rosemary.

Anyone can help themselves to the ingredients at this spot or one of the other 300 fridges and drop-off points that have sprung up around big German cities.

“We’ve managed to save more than 8,000 tonnes of food” over the five years the platform has been active, Foodsharing e.V. cofounder Frank Bowinkelmann said.

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