Guide to recycling in Germany

Recycling is considered to be a national sport in Germany. When I arrived I thought they don’t even recycle, because there are no separate recycling bins on the street. Turns out they just don’t trust people that they can recycle properly and they rather do it themselves. You got to see some humor in that! Apparently, Germany is currently leading in recycling, with the rate of 65% of waste recycled and no active landfills.  The famous Green Dot scheme is coming from Germany too and requires the producers to pay fees for recycling their products according to the amount of packaging they are using. This system led to thinner glass, less metal and less paper to be used for packaging and thus less garbage. The result was about one million tonnes less garbage per year than before the system was introduced.

“Pfand” or a deposit:

Deposit is paid for using a bottle that can be returned, washed and reused. It goes for glass (almost all beer bottles, dairy products in Bio Stores, some juices) and some plastic bottles (soft drinks). Return the bottles when you go shopping- if the store sells the kind of products, they are required to take it back. If you are on the go, leave the bottle under the city bin, for the homeless to collect and return. It’s quite a business and part of the culture too.


Sort by color. You can include all the glass and not just the bottles, but no mirrors, ceramics, lids or wine corks. I wouldn’t do in on Sunday morning as you might get some ugly looks. The bin is usually green.


All packaging made of paper and cardboard, newspapers, magazines, waste paper and so on. Don’t include tissues (compost!) and waxed paper. Put boxes apart, if there is some plastic included (think envelopes), take it away. The bin is usually blue.

Recyclable packaging or “Wertstoffe”:

Usually include things like plastic bags, plastic cups, plastic bottles, plastic wrappings, vacuum bags (coffee), plastic lids. Tin cans, aluminum foil. Polystyrene, styrofoam. Milk cartons, juice boxes. Empty medicine wrappings, nets in which food comes in, aerosol cans, tubes for toothpaste. The bin is usually yellow (I heard you can also put it in a yellow bag in the black bin for “others” if you do not have a yellow bin).

Textile and shoes (that cannot be sold or donated):

Use the big clothes bins located randomly on the streets.


Compost if you can to make a great soil, otherwise use the brown bin, if you have it,  for biogas. Don’t forget to use biodegradable bags (or no bags).

Batteries and bulbs:

They can be properly disposed at supermarkets that sell that kind of products. The small bins for batteries are usually at the exit or around cashiers.

Hazardous waste, electronics or broken furniture:

To be taken to a nearby Recyclinghof.

Final note: It is important to recycle properly, but even more to avoid waste as much as possible. Read why here.  I actually recycle less now because I generate less waste in general.

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