Why are Germans the leaders in organic food and eco-energy?
Germans are at the forefront of the environmentally friendly movement. Whether it’s sorting waste, developing eco-energy or organic foods, foreigners coming to Germany have a lot to learn. But why is Germany a leader in organic foods and environmental protection?
In 2015, the organic food market in Germany grew by 11%, generating €8.6 billion. Growth in organic milk sales was even more spectacular, increasing by more than 20%. Flour and oils can now be found in the organic food section. But the main growth engine is the increased organic foods selection at discounters like Aldi or Lidl. Germany is the largest organic foods market in Europe, even though the Swiss, Danish and Austrians have greater per-capita consumption.
When I moved to Germany in 1990, my roommate showed me how to sort my trash. At the time, it was still very easy – just bottles and boxes. A few years later, yellow bags were introduced for plastics and cans. By the time I left Germany in 2013, waste could be sorted into seven different bins:
– for green bottles
– for brown bottles
– for clear bottles
– for paper and cardboard
– yellow bags for plastics and metals
– for biodegradable waste
– and for everything else
This is German precision in all its splendor, and the majority of Germans comply with it. I forgot the deposit on plastic bottles (mineral water, for example) and cans (soda, beer), which must be returned to the store for a €0.25 refund per unit!
As a French, it requires a lot of common sense in order not to spend your whole life in front of the waste bins (does it go here, or there?) and failing miserably. In fact, the practice of sorting waste came to France much later. In June 2014, Le Monde published an article with the headline: “Half of the French do not systematically sort their wastes”.
Why are Germans more often pioneers when it comes to the environment and eating healthily?
I see several reasons for this. Overall, Germans feel a need to protect nature and as a result, they feel better about themselves.
First of all, Germany is naturally rather pessimistic. It is not fashionable for a German to show any feelings, and even less so to express joy for any success. In the end, the whole world thinks that Germans are unfunny, even depressing. Unfortunately I can’t remember the source, but I remember reading somewhere that Germans have more insurance than other Europeans. The English use the German word “Angst” for fear, to describe a state of high anxiety. I would almost say that many Germans look for reasons to be afraid even when everything is going well.
Don’t fool with nature!
Germans love nature. Heading out with the family on the weekend is more like an expedition than a simple walk. “Wandern“, or walking, is a sport. Germany has walking shoes, a backpack for walking, thermos (for walking), walking maps, etc. I struggled at first, I still don’t like changes in elevation but now I enjoy family walks through the forest, especially when it’s flat!
The impact of ecological disasters and health scares
Chernobyl, Fukushima, the avian flu, mad cow disease, are just some of the many reasons why Germans are more aware of their consumption habits.
The correlation between income and environmental protection
Many studies have shown that consumers’ ecological behaviors are related to their income levels. Germany has a strong economy, and many Germans have enjoyed stable jobs and stable if not increasing incomes for many years now.
In comparison with the United States
I live in a county that promotes waste sorting. We have three bins outside: one for plastic and glass, another for cardboard and paper, and the last one is for everything else. As a good German, I therefore sort my waste. Compared to 2013, I now see my neighbors doing it increasingly more often. However in the United States, recycling remains rather folkloric. There have been many times when I have seen the garbage collectors put everything in the same dumpster!
With a population of 320 million, the United States is the largest market for organic products in the world. However consumption per capita remains lower than the German average. Americans seeking healthy foods shop at Whole Foods, Trader Joe’s or Sprouts.
Whole Foods is the Ferrari of organic foods stores with their fantastic stores and excellent products, including fish and meat. But Ferraris are expensive…very expensive! Trader Joe’s has a lot less choice, but the prices are quite reasonable. Unfortunately there are no Sprouts in the Washington region, so I am unable to tell you anything about their pricing and selection.
What can we learn from Germany?
Germans love nature, sort their wastes and consume organic products. But they drive big cars, take airplanes to go on vacation, and import organic potatoes from Egypt! It doesn’t make sense in terms of global warming, does it?