News from the Tennessee Valley Columnists
SUNDAY, JUNE 3, 2007


Charge for a throw-away society

In our two weeks of traveling Germanyís back roads, farm roads, castle roads and autobahns recently, Regina and I recalled seeing one piece of litter. It looked so out of place.

There is a reason that Germans donít toss out their litter — the burger wrappers, drink cups, paper bags and Styrofoam food containers — and beer cans.

They have a distinctly different culture about keeping things clean.

ďWe are taught to not litter,Ē said a German at a small hotel where we spent one night. We had asked why everything was so clean.

If Germans can be taught to bag litter, perhaps we Americans donít really have a hopelessly bad gene that feeds on trash. Perhaps we, too, can train ourselves to do better if the price is high enough.

Germans are trained to recycle and to not litter, but there is more at work; itís called the Packaging Ordinance, or the principle that companies are responsible for the packaging of their products, even after consumers discard the packaging. Thatís an incentive to reduce or eliminate packaging. Some companies find ways to do both, thus cutting their costs.

Germans also do a lot of recycling.

Our flight home ended about 10:30 p.m. in Birmingham. Our first view of homegrown litter was at the traffic light at the interstate off-ramp at Priceville. It was a mess because the intersection is a handy spot where motorists toss out cigarette filters, burger wrappers, drink cups and beer cans while they wait for a green light.

In Germany, you pay a hefty deposit for refillable soft drink bottles and stores still refund that deposit on everything from wine bottles to Coke bottles. If you remember those days in the U.S., then as youngsters, say you are older than dirt.

It would be nice if in America we charged a hefty deposit on soft drink cups, burger wrappers, cigarette butts and beer cans and bottles.

That would help put a stop our throwaway society, too.

Tom Wright is executive editor.

Tom Wright Tom Wright
DAILY Executive Editor

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