Friday, September 17, 2010

Recycling & Trash in Germany

One of the things I have come to know and love about Germany is that practically every single aspect of life is rather complex and multi facetted. And sure that can be tough at times, but hey you make do right.

So I wanted to make a post about the trash and recycling systems in Germany, not saying it is all inclusive but what I have come across.

Alright. So unfortunately at this point in time I do not have images. Maybe next time I am at the recycling hof I will take pics. When I do that I will make a post on the main page linking back to the new visually improved trash post. 

So lets jump right in and start with the basic trash systems. From what I have come across in apartments there are a variation of combinations, here I will share the 2 I have come across.

1. Major complex with multiple tenants in Thuringia

This one in particular was most like the US. There are major dumpsters for trash and a big blue bin for papers and cardboard. 

Note: I have also seen large complexes with the system described next, so it really does vary per place.

2. Small apartments, or rather apartments built into a single family home, 3 families in Baden- Wuertemburg

Here we have individual trash cans, restmuell, much like you see in rented homes in the US. At the beginning of the year we have to go buy a trash stamp, a small sticker that is placed on the garbage bin. You can choose the size of bin you need, cause you buy it. We for instance will need to purchase a larger one for the bombardment of pampers.

Now you also have additional options:
1. The blue paper bin, Blaue Tonne, this would normally be shared through the whole house, but we all know my landlord is not user friendly, so he hogs it. I am not sure if additional stamps can be bought or not for these. Also, if you live in a complex and have a lot of waste say after moving, it is better to take it to the recycling center, you will find your neighbors rather hostile if not out right calling the hausmeister if you fill up the bins.

2. Bio trash, Bioabfall, just as in normal trash you can also buy stamps. Again our landlord does not share, but you can easily buy your own at the same place you get your trash stamps. This is like a compost in the US, or biodegradable trash as well as lawn clippings. 
Note: Many complexes will have community bins for the aforementioned.

Also each type of bin generally has a different pick up date, they seem to all run on a 2 week cycle and the specific dates can be found in the trash calendar. 

1. There will be a yearly fee for trash. Generally this is included in your nebenkosten (supplemental costs added to your monthly rent). Some landlords are not buy the book, like ours and just show up saying you owe me x for your portion of the bill. However, the aforementioned is the norm. These costs are generally divided based on the number of people in the complex, and then combined to applicable households, ie a family of 5 pays more then the single guys next door. Perhaps some do it just by apartment, but again that was just our experience. 
2. In addition to the yearly trash costs, in many cities, or homes like ours you need the trash stamps, Gebuehrenmarken. They of course vary based on the size of your trash can. We pay about 30 euro for a 60 liter bin. In Heilbronn kreis the prices for the household trash is 20 euros for 40 liters up to 120 euro for 240 liters. The bio trash is cheaper the stamps run 18 euro for 60 liters up to 72 euro for 240 liters. You can also buy one time use stamps.

Spermuell, Elektroschott, and Altmetall:
Spermull is a system I had never seen before. You are given 2 cards per year, for large items that are picked up for free. You send in the card with a list of the items you want to get rid of, and are sent back a date to place everything on the side of the road. These come attached to your yearly trash calendar.
You can dispose of the following with this method:

Spermuell (oversized trash):
Household and garden furniture, lamps and lampshades, suitcases, skis, large toys, beds and mattresses, rugs, strollers and car seats
Do not include:
Household trash, construction materials, chemical waste (paints, ect), normal recyclables, or oil ovens or tanks

Elektroschott (electrical waste):
Large appliances (washers, fridges, microwaves)
Do not include: Small appliances (toaster, keyboards)

Altmetall (Old metal):
Bikes, metal stools, metal canisters, misc metal items
Do not include: Car parts or aresol cans

And of course if you need to get rid of items faster you can go directly to a dump and pay per weight just like in the states. Many times you can take your spermull card directly there and use it. But they do say if it is over 800kg they do charge. 


There are 3 main systems:
1. Community recycling bins
2. The yellow bags
3. The recycling hof
4. Large gardening waste
5. Chemical waste

1. The community centers
These are found in almost every community. Here you can get rid of the most common recyclables. They tend to have bins for the following:
1. Clothing and or shoe donations
2. Newspapers and advertisements
3. Metal cans
4. Glass- white, brown and green

Many times these places are trashed and people abandon garbage here. They also have funny rule like you cannot put out your recycling after 7 pm or on a sunday. 

2. The yellow sacks
These are available in most cities, but not always in small cities. You have to ask when you buy your trash stamps. We did have them in Thuringia, but not here. It is a large yellow sack, you can place many different recyclables in it together and it is picked up every few weeks. Therefore you do not have to sort everything. You are given a sheet of what can go in and it is also displayed on the front of the bags- but offhand this includes drink containers, milk cartons, plastic both hard and soft. These are really nice and I actually miss living in a place with this system.

3. Recycling hof
This one is the big Kahuna. Now it is a resource you can use even if you have the yellow sacks, and there will be times you need to. But for those of us without the yellow sacks, this is pretty much a weekly visiting point. You can find the information about which hof to use as well as hours on your yearly trash calendar. They vary but many have limited hours, for instance ours is only friday and saturdays. 

Do note you have to sort the right way, there are really pissed off little men with those poker sticks who get bent out of shape if you dare place a piece of paper with the plastic. And they will watch you. Our tiny hof has about 5 guys lol. 

Our recycling hof offers the following:
1. Clothing and shoes in good condition
2. Metal cans
3. Glass- white, brown, and green
4. Small electronics- think toaster, keyoards ect
5. Wood
6. Aluminum- tin foil, packaging
7. Styrofoam
8. Metal
9. Plastic bottles- non deposit drink bottles, ect
10. Plastic containers- butter tins, yogurt cups, plant pots
11. Cardboard
12. Plastic under size a4- most food packaging
13. Plastic over size a4- furniture and packaging wraps
14. Wine corks
15. Batteries
16. Drink cartons- milk, juice (note these are different this plastic bottles, these are more like paper with wax, think of a quart of milk back home.)
17. Light bulbs

4. Large gardening waste, Hackselplatz
This is where you would bring large plants, or wood from trees. Also where you can bring your Christmas tree if you miss the pick up day :)

5. Chemical waste, Schadstoffsammelstelle.
In our case they have one day a month where we can drop off these waste items, or we can take them to a special recycling station in another city.
Here you can bring:
1. Paint
2. Pesticides
3. Household cleaners
4. Car fluids
5. Any misc Chemicals
They also have special days throughout the year when they will have special dates in which they will come to your home and pick up or have a drop off point for chemical waste (oils, paints, cleaners), as well as metals, christmas trees, and even donation items such as clothes and shoes. You should get such notices in your mail box a few weeks in advance, they generally specify what items can and cannot be placed out.

All the information you need about where to take recyclables to pick updates for trash can be found in the yearly trash calendar, Abfallkalender. We receive ours in our mailbox at the beginning of the year, but you should also be able to pick one up at town hall, rathaus. 

For more information Check out Christina's Post, "Sorting trash in Germany" over at This lady write phenomenal posts about expat life in Germany :)

Check back soon for a follow up post on how I sort and organize my recycling in my home, as well as donating in Germany, and a post about the deposit system. :)

Update: I just wanted to add that it looks like the donation bins vary per community. Today I came across some that accepted household items such as pots, pans, even sink spouts. So make sure to check out what your bins say. 


Formerly known as Frau said...

It took us a long time to figure the whole recycle thing down in Germany, this would have been helpful. Now that we are back in States we are keeping our recycling up it just became second nature!

Anonymous said...

Whoa that's complex! We have these big bins for returning paper/glass/etc and they're found at
alot of stores. We keep bottles and return them for money.

Germany seems to have the system down pat! For larger items in Finland many people just chunk them down a ravine :/ lol.

Lost in Translation said...

I am actually writing another post about the german bottle return system. Some bottles do have deposits, but not all.

Sonya said...

Everytime I go into germany I see those horrible cheap looking yellow plastic bags! they are always torn open and the items are all over the place. I cant stand that. Edwins Dad is forever bringing over his grass that he mowes because he cant fit it into his
I actually dont look forward to learning the system when we come over but I'm sure once you get into the routine it isnt so daunting.


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