Waste sorting and recycling in Germany

Waste sorting is different from one country to another. Your country might have different waste sorting methods from Germany or might not have any at all. If waste sorting is something new for you, here are some tips that can be useful:

1. When moving in, be prepared to buy several trash cans/recycle bins. You can easily get them online. If you reside in a small German town, getting household products online is probably more convenient (you will find many more options online than at a local department store). Trash cans/recycle bins have many names in German, depending on their exterior, materials they are made from, their function etc. You will see the names like Abfalleimer, Müllbehälter, Mülleimer, Papierkorb, Komposteimer, Tretmülleimer etc. Do not forget to measure the space where you want to put your waste containers. Garbage cans come in different sizes. How big of a container do you need? 15, 30, 45 L? Think of it before you place an order. For example, usually, you will need four bins (Restmüll, Bio, Papier and Wertstoffe) in your kitchen. When the bins are full, you shall take the trash downstairs where big waste containers are (for you and your neighbors to use). Each building has waste containers, check out their location when you move in.

2. Waste sorting details can vary within German regions, even within the streets of the same city. One must follow the rules, otherwise you have to a pay a fine (so they say). As for the differences, for instance, in the city we live in, on one street, the households are provided neither with Papiertonne nor with Gelbe Tonne. One shall put old paper outside a house once a month in order for a waste management company to pick it up. As a rule, people use old paper boxes/bags to put smaller pieces of paper inside of them. The waste management workers come early in the morning, so residents usually place old paper outside their houses the previous night. If it rains hard and wind is strong, the street is filled with old soaked paper. I wonder why those households have no Papiertonne. Gelbe Säcke laying on the ground along the street do not make it look prettier either.

3. Garbage like plastics, tins and many more items go to the Wertstoffe trash can in Germany. It is a yellow trash can, and it is called Gelbe Tonne. If you do not see any Gelbe Tonne in your building, you shall get a Gelber Sack. Gelbe Säcke are special yellow bags for the Wertstoffe. Check online where you can get them. For instance, we get them for free at the information desk of our Landkreis. Gelbe Säcke are huge! One household is supposed to get a roll of 26 of them per year. You can be asked for your address when getting them. That is the case in Baden-Württemberg. I cannot be sure about other German regions. There is a reminder for you on the surface of the bags about what trash belongs to the Wertstoffe.
You can also buy other trash bags (such as biodegradable trash bags, lawn and leaf bags, and residual waste bags) at your local Landkreis. Personally, I find biodegradable trash bags to be very practical. Their usage helps to clean a trash can and to bring the garbage from your kitchen to the main container downstairs easier.

4. You can find all the information about how to sort waste in Germany online. Check out the website of your local Landkreis. They shall have detailed sorting lists. It is easy and handy to print the sorting list out, so you can confirm with it before throwing things away. It takes time to learn new things and if waste sorting is something new for you (like for me), I recommend having this list before your eyes. Also, check the Abfallkalender of your city. You can find the schedule of the waste collection by choosing the name of your street from the list online. For example, waste collection workers, in the city we live in, come for the Bioabfall every week, for Gelben Sack and Restmüll twice a month, and for Altpapier once a month.

5. You shall sort glasses according to their color (brown, green, and clear). Bring your old glasses (do not forget to confirm they are non-refundable) to Altglascontainer. You shall find the locations of Altglascontainer in your city online. Keep in mind that you shall respect people in the neighborhood. For this reason, you shall throw the glass away only at certain time (the time is mentioned on Altglascontainer. For example, on working days, from 7 am till 8pm). Mirrors, broken window glasses do not belong to the Altglascontainer. Once again, check the information online. Find out how you can get rid of such trash in your city specifically.

6. When shopping, look for battery recycling containers by the shop entrances. Check the information about them online if you do not see any.

7. Bring your old clothes and shoes to the special containers you find on a street. Follow the instruction on the container. If your old clothes and shoes are still fine to be worn, put them into donation bins instead.



8. Be considerate. Flatten paper boxes (so they will occupy less space) and clean plastic cups and cans before throwing them away. Keeping the trash containers clean and tidy will save you from having arguments with your neighbors, minimize insects, and reduce odor.

With some time and practice, waste sorting will not be a question for you any longer.


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