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 and encountered plenty of situations where I wasn´t quite sure what to do. Some of you might know that I´ve just moved to Bremen to start the ISATEC master program together with quite a few other nationalities. On top I moved into a house, that once again is inhabited by a few guys coming from far overseas. 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. 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 to household 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 you 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 a 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 din´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 wort 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 you name and adress 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 joghurt cups would be a nice and friendly move.
What to throw in the yellow bags: Cans, plastic, aluminium, 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, left over food, kitchen scraps, tea bags, garden waste etc. In case you do not have n 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 seperately by your twon and usually they will et 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 fleamarket. Consider this an option yourself: it might be wort it to collect everything you want to get rid (and still might be of value for another person) and spent a day on a fleamarket to sell it. Bargaining is highly demanded here! 🙂
Generally spoken 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 fell victim to in supermarkets), sue returnable 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!
Tom is a marine biologist, photographer, and filmmaker specializing in conservation imagery and film. His scientific background is a strong asset in creating appealing imagery, articles, and short films. Tom has won several awards and nominations with his images and films, such as the German Prize for Science Photography in 2016/2017. Tom’s images and articles have been published in international magazines and newspapers such as The Guardian, Welt am Sonntag, Diver, Tauchen, In-flight magazines, Bild der Wissenschaften and more. In 2017 he launched www.tomvierus.com for a wider portfolio and business requests.
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