(Editor’s note: This is Pt.1 of a two-part series on recycling and trash rules in Germany. This was first posted on Audrey is (a)broad. You can see Pt. 2 here.)
You may have heard Germany has rules. There are also many rules about trash and recycling.
It’s not super fair to exaggerate and say “of course Germany has so many rules about trash; there’s rules about everything else” because pretty much every region has rules about trash. Otherwise, we’d live in not great places to sustain life.
It just seems like Germany’s rules are overly specific.
What to do
My confession for today: I don’t really get the sorting right all the time. Also a confession for today: I hate, hate sorting out bioabfall. I don’t really see a good way to do it.
In the old flat, we didn’t exactly have all the required cans for trash BUT that was also something we couldn’t control – they come from the Hausmeister or Vermieter.
Now that we’ve moved to a single family home we have all the cans we could want. And even then, it’s surprising how little they are, considering we share them with our landlord and their other tenants that are street-side of our courtyard.
Because we have more cans, we have more responsibility to absolutely make sure we’re doing things correctly. And the timing of this post comes because recently, we did not recycle correctly. And we were informed.
Even though I thought I had it down, I do not have trash sorting down exactly so my research is here on display for you, so you can avoid angry or passive aggressive notes (or even the trash itself) on your door!
How Do I Say…?
Basic vocabulary for Trash & Recycling:
Trash – Mülletonne
Trash – Abfall
Trash Bag – Müllsack
Bottles – Flaschen
Paper – Papier
Cardboard box – Karton
Most trash and recycling vocabulary is similar to English.
Why So Many Bins?
Efficiency. If the consumer sorts the trash at the place of waste creation, then less time is needed to pay employees to sort at the waste facility.
I made that up and have no evidence to support it, but sounds about right.
On the other hand, I know trash and recycling sorting can be done automatically at some facilities so perhaps this will be one of those traditions Germany doesn’t want to let go of.
Whatever the reason, it’s important to know the rules and color coding. Not only is it important to keep the waste removal system running smoothly, but you could also face fines from the city for not sorting properly. However you want to define the end result is up to you, but sorting properly is your responsibility.
The System is not to be messed with. Otherwise, your badly sorted trash will end up on your doorstep (has happened to me twice) or notes will be attached to the trash and left next to the bins, to shame the person who then has to put the trash into the correct bin (has happened … more than twice).
Yellow / Packaging
It is now time to move on to the more advanced level: the yellow Bins and the Green Dot. Cans, plastic, polystyrene, aluminum, tinplate and “composite” materials like beverage cartons made of a mixture of materials belong in the yellow bin or should be put in the yellow bags. Empty spray cans are also allowed here.
You are not supposed to put stuff inside each other, like the yogurt cup inside the baked beans tin. And lastly, spare a thought for the end process: this stuff gets sorted by hand. A kind request has been made to rinse the cans and cups before throwing them in the bin. No need to scrub, just a light rinse.
Does it have a Green Dot?
If it has a Green Dot, put it in the yellow bin.
Blue / Paper
Paper is also entry-level recycling: all packaging made of paper and cardboard, newspapers, magazines, waste paper, paper bags, etc, etc. (you’ve got the idea?) belong in the blue bins. Tissues, however, do not belong here. Read on to find their place in the scheme of things. If you don’t have a blue bin at your home, you will certainly find one somewhere in your neighborhood. You are supposed to flatten boxes before putting them in the bin, and make sure you throw only the box and not the plastic wrappers inside the box, in the bin.
Brown / Bio
If you are not fortunate enough to have a separate brown bin and don’t feel like making your own compost heap, you are allowed to throw the bio stuff in your household waste bin, the gray one. This bin is also the destiny of, finally, “almost the rest”. This includes ash, cigarette butts, old household objects like hairbrushes and frying pans, textiles and nylon stockings, nappies/diapers, tissues, other personal hygiene items, extremely dirty paper, etc. Everything in the gray bins will be incinerated.
Bio stuff is anything destined for the compost heap in a good gardener’s back yard. This includes kitchen scraps, peels, leftover food, coffee filters, tea bags and garden waste. If you live in a house, you probably will have a separate brown bin for this. The end result of bio recycling is either energy through the natural fermenting gasses, which is captured and utilized, or garden compost. So this is good stuff to recycle, albeit a bit smelly at times. The brown bins do, however, get emptied very regularly during the summer months. Nevertheless, keep the bin far from your kitchen window!
Black / Everything else
If you are not fortunate enough to have a separate brown bin and don’t feel like making your own compost heap, you are allowed to throw the bio stuff in your household waste bin, the gray one.
Stay tuned for Pt. 2, because yes, there are even more rules.
About the author:
Audrey Shankles is an American who moved to Germany, and who writes about how that’s going at www.a-broad.com. She comes from the Washington DC region in the United States and has been in Germany for more than five years. While she misses the Nats, the Caps and brunches along the Potomac, she’s fallen in love with the Rheingau, 3 euro beers, and taking the train everywhere.
Audrey has held a multitude of jobs and explored numerous careers and fancies herself a “person who does things with people she likes.” When writing, she focuses on helping people understand their appliances and recipes in German, posts her personal thoughts about living abroad and her failures at integrating into German society.
See all of Audrey’s Dispatches posts here.