Windräder © Markus Dunckert


Germans are very environmentally conscious. It is no surprise that in a country with limited resources and a large population, there is a high level of consensus regarding recycling, conservation and renewable energy sources. In fact, Germany is the leading proponent of solar energy. This high level of environmental awareness even extends to private households. When it comes to waste collection, the Germans are among the most efficient, and for good reason. Efforts to fight the ‘throwaway culture’ have led to a drastic reduction in waste levels and the country’s innovative approaches set an example for the rest of Europe.

As a newcomer to Germany, it is important that you familiarise yourself with the local recycling rules and adhere to them. If you are looking for trouble with the neighbours, you will soon find it if you fail to separate your rubbish. Admittedly, there are a lot of rules in Germany, and these can differ greatly from one town to the next. In some towns, the refuse bins are located in residential buildings or houses while in others there might be central collection points. However, ignorance is no excuse: You can obtain a copy of the guidelines from the appropriate authorities, or simply ask your neighbour. In general though, everything gets recycled in Germany. We have compiled a summary of the most important rules.

Bottle deposit:
Germany has implemented an extensive deposit system over the past few years. There is a 25 cent deposit, or Pfand, on plastic bottles and cans, eight cent on glass bottles (mainly beer and water bottles). This system covers all carbonated drinks, water and beer. Wine and non-carbonated drinks are not included. You can reclaim your Pfand by returning your bottles to the supermarket or drinks shop. The machines you need will be there waiting for you. The best thing to do is take the bottles straight back to the place where you bought them, since certain shops do not accept brands outside of their own range.

Waste glass:
You can take any glass that does not qualify for Pfand to one of the collection containers that can be found at various locations around town. Glass is sorted according to colour: green, white and brown.

Waste paper:
Newspapers, magazines, card and any type of packaging material made from paper or cardboard belongs in the waste paper bin. These bins are green or blue, and sometimes only the lid is coloured, depending on where you live. It is best to tear cardboard boxes up into small pieces before throwing them in the bin.

Aluminium, tin cans, plastic packaging and containers, styrofoam and items made of composite material such as drinks cartons and spray cans all go in the yellow bin. You can look for the ‘green dot mark’ to make sure.

Organic waste:
Kitchen waste, peelings, leftover food, coffee filters, teabags and green waste from your garden all belong in the brown ‘Bio’ bin. This type of waste makes up 50 per cent of all the waste in Germany.

Old clothes and shoes:
Charitable organisations will often collect old clothes and shoes straight from your home and let you know they are coming a few days before a collection campaign. There are also containers situated all over town, and these are emptied by various commercial organisations.

Electronic devices, small appliances and furniture:
This ‘bulky waste’ is collected three or four times a year. Dates are published in advance.

Household waste:
If there is any waste left in your house then it belongs in the grey bin, the ‘Restmüll’ bin. This includes the likes of cigarette packets, toiletries, rags, nappies and old kitchen utensils.