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!
Tom is an award-winning photographer and filmmaker and Marine Biologist specializing in conservation imagery & film, photojournalism, and promotional tourism work. Tom has won several awards, his films have been screened on film festivals throughout the world, and his images and stories have been published in dozens of articles in international magazines.
Tom is based in Suva, Fiji Islands and shares his workload between environmental assignments and promotional tourism work throughout the Pacific. In 2020, Tom founded Pacific Media House, a company offering photography & film services all across the Pacific.
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