Sometimes it can be difficult to adapt to new regulations and rules when you leave your country for another. I myself lived for almost two years in South Africa, a year in Egypt and live large parts of the year in Fiji, and encountered plenty of situations where I wasn’t quite sure what to do.
When I moved to Bremen in 2016 to study the ISATEC master program more than half of my fellow classmates came from different countries. I also moved into a house that was inhabited by several different nationalities.
Well, one problem most of them have in common is the confusion about the trash recycling here in Germany.
Over the last years, Germany has evolved a well-functioning trash system, where trash is already sorted in households to make the recycling process easier and less expensive. At least that’s the idea of it. There are still millions of people here that don’t do it, be it because they are too lazy, simply don’t want to or just don’t know how to do it. But you are here and want to help, so let’s see how to recycle trash in Germany.
We have a color system here in Germany which will make it easy for you to see which bin is for what kind of trash. Sometimes the whole bin might be in a specific color, but most of the times you’ll only find the lid being colored. Let’s start with paper.
Probably the easiest ones. The blue bins (or black bins with a blue lid) are common and surely you´ll find them in your house, too. What to throw into the paper bin: All kinds of paper, e.g. newspaper, booklets, paper wrappings etc.. If it’s very dirty rather choose thehousehold bin.
This is quite easy: some households (especially bigger apartment blocks) will most probably have an extra bin for glass, but many don’t. Usually, the bins in the houses are green but this may vary from city to city – if you are unsure, just check what’s inside.
There is usually a sign showing bottles on the bins as well. Anyways, many houses do not have these bins (as the owners have to pay for each and every bin). In this case, you can just collect your glass and throw it into bigger glass containers, that you will find in every neighborhood no matter where you live.
These containers are quite big and you’ll find one for white glass, one for green glass and the third one for brown glass. Please mind the people living around those containers and don’t recycle your glass at midnight as it’s quite noisy and can easily annoy those living nearby.
Which glass to recycle here: all glass bottles where you didn’t pay a deposit or Pfand, any kind of jars (mustard, jam etc), oil bottles, wine bottles etc
NOTE: Beer bottles always have Pfand (8 cents) and you can recycle them in most major supermarkets. Just make sure they’ll take glass bottles, as there are many machines that only take PET-Bottles.
This is a very important one. Plastic is taking over the world, doesn’t compose naturally and enters our food chain as microplastic (If you want to know more about microplastics, click here). Still, most plastic around the world IS NOT recycled, which makes it even more important for us to do it. Again some bigger apartment blocks will have bigger yellow bins, where you can just throw in your plastic trash, basically everything with the so-called GREEN DOT. If you do not find such a yellow bin or container, then you should get the free yellow bags.
In most cities, you’ll get them at various locations like banks, supermarkets or city authorities. I’ve just found out, that the system works a little different here in Bremen: household receive coupons, which you can trade for yellow bags. Now since some people haven’t received them as they’ve just moved here (including myself) there is a phone number to order them: 0800 / 479 26 71. I haven’t called it yet, so I am not sure if they are able to speak English, but it´s definitely worth a try. If you don’t succeed ask a German friend to do that for you.
Otherwise, I found a link, where you just type in your name and address and a couple of days you´ll receive coupons. Once you’ve received the coupons you will want to check out this link, enter your zip code on top and you’ll find the stores in your vicinity, where you’ll get these bags for free in exchange for the coupons. Please mind that everything out of the yellow bags is again sorted by hand, so rinsing your cans and yogurt cups would be a nice and friendly move.
What to throw in the yellow bags: Cans, plastic, aluminum, tin plate and materials like beverage cartons made out of a mixture of materials
NOTE: DO NOT throw in your PET – Bottles, as you paid 25 Cents deposit or Pfand for EACH bottle. You can recycle them once again in supermarkets, where you´ll find machines with the PET-symbol.
If you have an organic bin, consider using it. Anything natural belongs in here like fruits, peels, coffee filters, leftover food, kitchen scraps, tea bags, garden waste etc. In case you do not have an organic bin, where you live you can throw all of this stuff into the HOUSEHOLD WASTE BIN.
Every household in Germany has this one: the household waste bin. Almost everything that´s not included in the above mentioned comes in here.
What to throw into the household waste bin: cigarette ashes, household objects, textiles, nylon, tissues and other hygienically items including the waste out of your bathroom.
Another important information: Things like batteries, acids, paint cans, fluorescent tubes, corrosives, adherents, etc. Most of these items are collected separately by your town and usually, they will let you know when this happens.
NOTE: Batteries can be thrown away at various shopping locations, like REWE markets or dm markets. Please do not throw them into your household waste, as this one is simply burnt and extremely toxic gasses arise if batteries are burnt as well.
In case you want to get rid of old furniture or other bigger items like building materials, chairs etc but even broken Hifi you can call the Spermüll.
In the cities, I have been living in so far, this was a free service supplied by the city and offered up to three times a year – free of charge! You’ll get a date when you Spermüll will be collected, so make sure it will be in front of your door by then. Usually, quite a lot of the stuff (if it’s not too old and ugly) will be collected by people driving around the streets and looking for reusable things or potential objects that will still bring some money on the flea market.
Consider this an option yourself: it might be worth it to collect everything you want to get rid (and still might be of value for another person) and spent a day on a flea market to sell it. Bargaining is highly demanded here! 🙂
Generally speaking, it is the best to already avoid as much trash and waste as possible. Take a cotton bag with you instead of buying a plastic bag, boycott products that are completely “overpacked” with plastics, buy fresh fruits from the market (without the packaging that many fruits and vegetables fall victim to in supermarkets), use reusable products as well as refill products and look out for the Green Dot.
The more people pay attention to things like this the better it is and the earlier the market changes. We as consumers have the power to determine the market and every journey – even the longest – starts with the first single stops.
Your actions DO make a difference!
I hope I made the extensive German recycling system a little clearer and you will be soon a part of it! Thanks for YOUR help!
Welcome to Germany 🙂 In your case, you should throw away the meat and all other (eatable) leftovers into your trash bag at home and dispose this one into the household bin (the black one – what does it say at your home?). I am sure you´ll find a black one too where you live. I guess green is for glass at your home and yellow is the one for plastic. Your plastic trash of your meal should go in this one. As I already wrote you can get free yellow bags (check out this link, enter your adress and you´ll receive coupons!)that you could leave in your flat until they are full and then dispose them into the yellow bin.
I hope I could help, just let me knwo if something is unclear!
All the best here,
Thank you very much aSs you could not have explained things any better…..each and everything making complete sense.:-)))))))
IS THERE AN AVAILABLE SOMEWHERE OR ONLINE AN ALPHABETICAL LIST OF ITEMS AND WHERE EACH ONE GOES, LIKE
ENVELOPE-PAPER-BLUE BIN/PLASTIC-YELLOW BIN
not sure! But I think this article already answers some of your questions 🙂
Any idea what to do with old Video cassette tapes? Have a load of them and not sure what to do with them. Charity shops don’t want them.
I’d say either put them in a box on the street saying “giveaway” or “zu verschenken” or put i them in the yellow bag as it is entirely plastic..
I just checked and it seems that the old VHS tapes should be thrown away in the household trash bin. In case you have a larger collection, you should take them to a recycling place in your city!
How do you recycle metal ?
if it is just a small amount you can put them in the black bin (Restmüll) if you have larger quantities you can bring them to a “Recyclinghof”. Just google the closest one to your home!
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Hi.. Do you know if one should remove the plastic/metallic caps from the jam, coffee, deodorant bottles before throwing them into the white bottles bin? Or should one leave the caps on?
yeah, indeed, they should be removed before recycling the glass into the glass containers! Then either in the yellow bin or in the household waste bin depending on the material. Thanks for helping to sort trash 🙂
Hope you can help me with this… what bin do coffee cups go in? Do regular coffee cups go into a different bin to biodegrable cups? I have also noticed some coffee cups with decompostible lids that are made from lactic acid. Where do these go? Does that mean you can put them in the compost?
Thanks for your help in advance!
sorry, your comment somehow got lost! Do you mean the Nespresso plastic ones? They would go into the yellow bag! If they are actually compostable then you can put them into the brown bin (Bioabfälle) if you have one, or the black one (Restmüll) if you don’t have one where you live.
Let me know if this helps!
I have a question: where do I recycle Prepared pasta, bread, butter, meat? Do they all go in the brown one? Thanks!
Yep, that’s exactly right!
Thank you very much for your post. I still have a few questions. I would really appreciate if you could help me with them.
How should I dispose bathroom wastes (used toilet paper, menstrual pads, etc) in Germany? Is it OK to store them in a plastic bag and then put the full plastic bag in the black waste bins?
Same question about kitchen wastes. Should I wrap them in a newspaper instead of a plastic bag? If so, does this dirty wrapping newspaper go in the brown bio bin or the black bin?
Yes, bathroom wastes are thrown into the black waste bins! Kitchen wastes could go in the brown bin (if you have one) or into the black bin! Don’t throw plastic into the brown bins, easiest would be if you collect organic waste in a small bowl and keep emptying that directly into the brown bins. Then you do not need plastic or newspapers and it won’t stink either 😉 Otherwise, we always have biodegradable plastic bins available in Germany that you will find in most convenient stores. Hope that helps 🙂
Thanks for your explanation 🙂
Hello Tom, Thanks for your article. In my student apartment in Freiburg, I can see that I already have two small bins given to me, yellow and green. Following your article, does this mean that the yellow one is for plastic and the green for glass only, or is the green one for organic trash? Also, do I have to dispose the plastic in yellow bags, or is it okay if I put them in the right bin, but in a different colour bag? Thanks for your help!
yes, the yellow one would be for plastic and I just checked on Freubirgs city webpage that the green bin is for cartons, paper etc! If there is a yeöllow bin I think it should be fine to just throw the plastic in there but better not use another bag as that might have to be separated again. Do you know where to get yellow bags in Freiburg?
Some wine bottles are 90% clear but 10% green. Do I put them in weiß or grün?
Hi John, good question! I would put them into “weiß”! Thanks for recycling your trash properly and all the best,
Where do I throw bad sheets or pillows that I no longer want to use? Thank you for your help
Hi Bart, if they’re still in a great condition you could donate them in one of the clothing bins that you will find around town. If the condition is too bad to donate you can just throw them in the standard (black) bin!
Thank you for answering patiently for all questions.
Hello! I apologize in advance if this question has already been addressed. Should Nespresso capsules made out of plastic with aluminum lid be put in the yellow bags (Gelber Sack)? Also, in the property that I live in there is no yellow bins/containers (Gelbe tonne) and only Restmüll, Papier and Bioabfälle bins. Having said that, where should the yellow bags (Gelber Sack) be dispose for recycling?
Thanks for your awesome article about how to recycle trash in Germany. I really enjoyed reading it and learned a lot of new things. It’s such an important topic that needs more coverage!
Thank you so much – happy it could help 🙂
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Tom Vierus is an award-winning photographer, filmmaker, and marine biologist based in Suva, Fiji Islands. This blog is dedicated to his assignments and to sharing some behind-the-scenes footage.
Hello! I´ve just moved to Bremen also, and I’m brazilian so… it is really confuse to me… for example, I bought a meal to eat at home, now I have my leftovers (with meat) and the pack (plastic), How should I supposed to separate?, I have only two bins (yellow and green).
The leftovers should I put directly or should I put in a plastic bag?