Littering Germans, and how the Litterati can help

A candy wrapper, one of my first Litterati finds

A candy wrapper, one of my first Litterati finds

As a dog owner, you get to walk quite a lot. And these dog walks are great for getting to know a new place of living: you get a feel of what’s around you, get to know other dog owners (well, okay, their dogs mostly), but you also get some impressions of the local peculiarities. One thing I noticed quickly while doing the regular walks with B in our new country, is that Germans like to litter. A lot. I was very surprised to find, in a country where every household has four containers for waste disposal, so much trash in the streets and forests. It’s appalling.

Now, I was thinking of how I could do something about it. I mean, just noticing all sorts of trash in all sorts of places is one thing, but noticing doesn’t change anything. I remembered the Liela Talka, or ‘Big Cleanup’ that is so popular in Latvia: one day on which the whole country goes out and cleans up. Now, there is an event like that in Germany. Actually: there are several. Düsseldorf has one, and Ratingen another. Both on different dates. Unfortunately, on the date the big cleanup in Ratingen took place, we were not at home. Then I realised it’s not about focusing the attention on one day. It’s about changing attitudes in every day life. So it’s about focussing on the everyday.

A mobile app would be a good idea, I thought. One in which people could take a picture with their mobile phone, add a geo-tag, and maybe some comments. With some aggregated data, you could go and talk to cities and municipalities to see what can be done about the littering: extra trash collection, more surveillance, education, more trashcans. All sorts of things. I even learned how to code Ruby for this end. I was hoping to be able to create that app then.

So, when I came across Litterati today, it was one of those things that the internet has enabled us to do for so long already: I connected with like-minded people from a completely different geographical location. And fortunately one who had taken a similar idea, and made an even better implementation of it. In a mashup of Instagram and Google Maps, he has created a digital landfill, and a map to show the impact of littering. But he has gone even further: he created a movement. Members of the Litterati movement not only take pictures of discarded items they see to share them on instagram (which reminded me of the Dutch Trashlog project from way back), they also pick it up and dispose of it properly. On the digital home of the movement, you can see all these photos (as long as they’re tagged in Instagram with the #Litterati hashtag), but also a map and other statistics. Great data to start a conversation with local governments and brands.

Needless to say, I’ve joined the movement.

Size matters for Deutsche Post

Warning sign: not enough stamps

Warning sign: not enough stamps

Sometimes I still send what some now know as snail mail. You know, a piece of paper with lettering on it, printed or hand written, folded to fit in an envelop, and on that envelop an address. Or maybe two: one to where the letter should be sent, and one to send it back to in case it’s not deliverable, or some other problem raises its head.

In the places I’ve lived in, the postage, or the fee you pay to have your piece of mail delivered, depends largely on the weigth of the package. As long as it fits in the standard mail box, that is. So, sending a one-page, A4 size letter would cost the same whether you take an envelop for which you have to fold the letter twice, in three, just once or not at all. Apparently not so in Germany.

Today we received a letter. To be more precise: we received a letter we had sent the day before yesterday. On it featured a bright yellow sticker, explaining that due to the size of the envelop, we had not put enough postage on it. We were short 2 Euro and 70 cents. I had put a 75 cent stamp on the letter, because I thought that was the amount due for letters weighing not more than 20 grammes, which one sheet of A4 size paper in an envelop usually does. And that is indeed the required postage, if the envelop is not bigger than an A4 folded in half twice (you get roughly A6 size) or folded in three (I guess that’s B6 or C6, in any case: the official maximum dimensions of an envelop for this rate are 23,5 cm x 12,5 cm). If the envelop has the size of an A4 folded in half (A5), then you have to pay 3,45 EURO. Yes, that’s right. Simply using another size of cover, will mean you have to pay more than four-and-a-half times as much!

To be fair to Deutsche Post, the postage is explained quite precisely on their website. Still, I find it hard to understand why sending the same letter in a different size envelop can be so much more costly. I’m a fan of price differentiation as a marketing tool, but this difference seems too random to be justified. I really would like to know what’s behind it. So if you have any thoughts on that, or an inside view…

In any case, it’s a good thing to know for when you find yourself needing to send something via post in Germany.