I've been living in Germany for almost two years and in that time I've picked up some typical German habits such as a penchant for a crisp wheat beer, a staunch opposition to jaywalking, and a love of hiking. But the major area I've noticed my habits have changed is when it comes to eco-friendly living.
Germany is recognised as a leader in sustainability, one of just a 'handful of countries globally to have enshrined the goal of climate neutrality by or before 2050 in its national law.'
One of the big reasons Germany has managed to become a sustainability leader is due to its ground up initiatives, which empowers residents to step up and be conscious of their individual responsibility in protecting the environment. Here are some of them:
1. Separate and recycle as much as possible
One of the very first things you need to understand when you move to Germany is the recycling system, or risk being thrown scathing looks from your nosy neighbours.
Waste is sorted into different bins: round items, paper and cardboard, bio-organic, white glass, brown glass, green glass, plastics that can be returned for a refund, those that can't, and general waste. On top of that in each suburb there are some recycling bins for electronics, clothing and batteries. Even the pine trees we buy at Christmas are collected around mid-January and recycled.
Waste management is taken very seriously, and is one of the core components of the government's renewable energy revolution, as any waste that isn't recycled is often burned, creating further emissions.
Most plastic bottles come with a small pfand (refund) of 25c, which you can collect from recycling machines at most supermarkets. Similarly, beer is often sold in solid plastic crates that you can return to the store, along with the empty bottles, for a refund.
2. Pedal power
When I first moved here, I was always surprised to see old granny's riding bikes around the neighbourhood, shopping bundled in their rear baskets. But I very quickly realised that bike riding is so well established thanks to the dense German cities, thoughtfully engineered and extensive bike lanes and oversupply of bike parking.
Bike riding is not just a young person's hobby or a lycra wearing city commuter, it's a regular form of transport for everyone in the family. Outside schools, shopping centres and train stations bike parking lots overflow with bikes. While car ownership is still high, it seems bike usage has generally replaced the short trips and day-to-day errands that sees many Australian households use a second car for. It's also a big saving to the hip pocket!
3. Sunday is a day of rest
Sunday is vehemently protected in Germany as a day of rest for both people and the planet. In most cities in Germany, shops are legally required to stay closed, so you'd better remember to do your grocery shopping on Saturday! On top of that, trucks over 7.5t are banned from German roads on Sundays until 10pm to help keep the roads clear, quiet and clean.
Most German's spend Sunday's catching up over a long lunch, then enjoy a Sonntagsspatziergang (Sunday stroll) wandering in the many green parks and forests surrounding the cities.
4. Trains are life
The train system is so widespread that 88% of Germans live in close proximity to a train or bus stop. The trains are relatively efficient, and run all night on the weekends, so it is seen as the best form of transport for many. The long distance trains known as ICE connect every major town in the country, and can reach top speeds of 300km/h, making it a better alternative to flying for both leisure and business travellers.
On top of that, trains are often equipped with free WiFi, toilets, snack bars and luggage racks to make them even more comfortable and appealing.
5. It starts at home
Even though it regularly snows in Germany in winter, I've never once felt cold inside my apartment, thanks to the water heater radiators attached to the wall in every room of the apartment. They are highly energy efficient and automatically turn off overnight throughout the whole building to reduce excess usage. On top of that the block out blinds help retain heat, as do the triple glazed windows and double brick walls.
The government has a lofty target to reduce the energy produced in homes by up to 95% by 2050. To help this, not only do new buildings have strict energy efficiency regulations requiring them to use renewable energy, there is also a generous scheme which encourages homeowners to undertake energy saving renovations through grants and tax breaks.
6. Buy local produce
Every Tuesday and Friday a small Farmers market springs up in the town square of my suburb. Around 15 producers offer fresh fruit and vegetables, eggs, poultry and dairy from local farms. These markets take place in almost every town and suburb in the country. Not only do they support local growers, but shoppers become aware of the seasonality of produce and they reduce the need for long distance transportation, while providing healthy and delicious produce.
7. Ditch the dryer
I don't know anyone in Germany who owns a dryer. They opt for clothes horses in front of the radiator, or balcony clothes lines in summer. In fact, it is deemed Umweltverachtend (environmentally contemptible) to own a dryer. Clothes dry quickly overnight, and you don't need to worry about finding extra space for a dryer in your laundry or bathroom.
8. Ditch the packaging
In 2019, a new Packaging Act was brought in which enforces all companies, online retailers and importers to adopt eco-friendly packaging practices. This means that retailers need to ensure all their packaging can be recycled or collected and reused. Companies that don't comply can face large fines. I've certainly noticed a decrease in the amount of plastic packaging and more upcycled boxes and paper wrapping.
Written by Kat Barber
Kat is an Australian travel writer currently living in Germany with her husband and dog. She's passionate about sustainable travel, languages, eating pretzels and drinking great coffee. Find her on Twitter at @katbarberwriter