Lifting the ban on bottle collecting isn’t enough to help Hamburg’s poor

By Benjamin Laufer, Hinz&Kunzt

A ban on people collecting bottles from the bins at Hamburg Airport has been lifted, thanks to a successful petition launched by the city’s street paper Hinz&Kunzt. Three street paper vendors are now employed to oversee the collection and recycling of plastic bottles in the airport. It is progress, but our real goal has to be a society in which no-one is forced to rake through rubbish.

The three bottle collectors: Georgi, Uwe and Jaroslaw are now responsible for regularly emptying six recycling containers located throughout Hamburg Airport. Photo: Mauricio Bustamante

At Hinz&Kunzt, we’ve done a lot in the last few months for bottle collectors in Hamburg (people living in poverty in the city often raid bins for empty bottles which they can earn money from by sending them to recycling). After we complained that they couldn’t look through the new ‘BigBelly’ rubbish bins, the Senate of Hamburg awarded 100,000 euros for bottle banks, which are being gradually installed.

After our reports about airport bottle collectors having charges pressed against them, and our subsequent online petition, charges were dropped. Collecting bottles is now allowed, and there are even places to collect deposits in airports.

Indeed, we were able to make life easier for bottle collectors in Hamburg. We’re glad of that and we’re getting a lot of support from our readers. But we can’t allow ourselves to be too complacent.

We’re used to seeing increasing numbers of bottle collectors. We’ve gotten to know many of them over the last few months. We met a retired pensioner who once installed the escalators in the airport. Now he takes the tram to the airport every day to rummage through bins. We also know a software developer who hasn’t had a raise in ten years and after bars close at night regularly goes down the main street looking for bottles and change. There is also a chef who can’t find work in the off-season and spends six hours a day scouring the city centre for bottles. Collecting bottles is also one of the few ways homeless people in our city can make money, if they do not sell Hinz&Kunzt.

The real problem is that these diligent people are forced to rake through rubbish in the first place, just to get by. Studies are regularly published showing that the gap between the rich and the poor in our country is growing. That we’re getting used to that being how things are; that we can’t change anything about it.

It’s clearly scandalous that bottle collectors’ lives are made even more difficult with charges being pressed and bans on entering certain areas, and we have to fight for them not to be criminalised and thrown out of places like Deutsche-Bahn owned train stations. But our real goal has to be a society in which no-one is forced to rake through rubbish.

Politicians responsible for this situation cannot be let off the hook by setting up a couple of bottle banks to dampen the blows of their policies. Sustainable measures against poverty are imperative. Let’s fight for that.