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German Krankheit: The Rubbish Robot
bloggi | April 1, 2007 at 06:11 amby
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Certainly Germany is a country where great inventions have been made, and are being made as we speak. Nice to know that others take these inventions to the market. The legend goes that the basic technology for faxing was invented here, also for sure MP3 was an algorithm invented in this country.
As for who builds fax machines and MP3 players and reaps a profit from them, we all know. Certainly, in a knowledge based economy maybe having the blueprint drawn here and having the labor intense producing done elsewhere is a method advocated by some. That is, as long as those using the technology are willing to respect patents.
I am ex-cursing, I see.
Today I would like to present to you a product of German high tech which you will find something between interesting and absurd.
Violà: The rubbish Robot.
It is the task of this machine to collect bottles which originally were designed as one way packaging. You put in a PET bottle, or a can, and with a grand noise this thing will crush the whole thing and send it down into a container (with the big red striped doors), where it becomes rubbish. Next, you will receive a receipt which you can take to the cash to redeem your return fee.
As you might have understood with ease, this machine does what you could do at home: Crush a plastic bottle and throw it into a bag. Just this one gives you a voucher to redeem because you have paid around USD 0.40 per bottle in return fees beforehand.
Now, Germany is one of the most environment friendly nations in the world. To my taste, a bit too much, and my personal two cents are that I would call it eco-totalitarianism. So you have three kinds of rubbish bins in every household. A brown (or grey) one for food and dirty packaging. A blue one for paper. And a yellow one for plastic and mixed material packaging.
As you would guess, there are three different trucks coming to each household weekly or fortnightly to collect the different kinds of rubbish (probably very environmentally friendly, given the fuel you burn). Never mind. The yellow bag is paid by the consumer through an extra taxation of products, and it is where normally plastic bottles would and could go.
Germany has chosen another way for beverages: Because one way packaging was perceived to be environmentally unfriendly, it was decreed that on all one way packaging of drinks a refundable return fee was to be imposed if the market share of one way packaging (as opposed to returnable packaging) went beyond 70 something per cent. Never mind that between the 1990s and 2003, when the craze was enacted, material science has made considerable advances.
The so called preforms for no return PET plastic bottles are only insignificantly thicker in their original form than a traditional return package. Blown up, it is anyone's guess that a non-returnable plastic bottle probably uses one fourth of the raw material of a returnable bottle to reach the same end.
Add to that carrying empty bottles (return) around in trucks as well as the advances in materials separation and recycling techniques, and you might well arrive at the conclusion that the law could be considered rubbish in itself. Rubbish yes, but a good lesson to the consumer who now was now obliged to carry rubbish back to the supermarket for a refund.
What followed was an absurd situation where huge cardbox containers were positioned at supermarket cash registers where used and not quite hygienical bottles were thrown and often would disseminate a foul odor in summer for half a day. Let alone the soothing thought that the cashier would touch the used mouthpieces of bottles first, and then your groceries.
Interesting enough also... while the return fee for one way bottles was set to 25 Euro Cent, the thicker and more material consuming return bottles had a return fee of 15 Euro Cent, making it cheaper in theory to buy one of those and throw it away than a one way bottle. Of course, you wanted to create an incentive for people to buy return bottles, and when it comes to throwing them away, you could maybe rely on social pressure (compare eco-totalitarianism above) if someone observed the perpetrator throwing away a return bottle.
Be that as it may, between 2003 and 2005 consumers endured a chaos of only those who sold a particular brand of beverage were guaranteed to take the empty packaging back and refund you. That was the time when people had to take tools out of the trunk of their cars and the plastic age began taking hold.
Finally, in 2006, the Rubbish Robot arrived. As we observed above, its only purpose is to make rubbish out of plastic bottles on your behalf and print your refund voucher.
What really makes it a fine piece of technology is that (so you can return only bottles from German sellers) it has a 3D laser scanner inbuilt and a database of all beverage packages sold anywhere in Germany as part of the return-fee system. A real piece of German high tech, solving a burning problem, therefore.
A friend from the trade told me that one of these machines may cost 15,000 Euros on average, making it about 17 or 18 thousand USD. On average, you will need one of these for every 700 or so square metres of retail space.
It makes rubbish on the customer's behalf, maybe makes no sense ecologically in the lights of facts, but certainly doing one thing which has always been part of German mentality:
It teaches you a lesson about being a good eco-citizen every day.
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