Recycling in Germany

When we moved into our first house in Germany three years ago, our German landlords who didn’t speak any English showed us the cupboard that contained some yellow trash bags and that was our brief, non-explanatory introduction to recycling in Germany. While it seems overwhelming at first, through trial and error recycling the German way has become second nature.

The yellow sack in action - stands like this can be purchased at grocery stores such as Globus
The yellow sack in action – stands like this can be purchased at grocery stores such as Globus

First, the ‘gelb’ (yellow) sack should contain those things that are easily recyclable. Think soda cans, plastic bags, bottle caps, yogurt cups to name a few. One thing to note is if food leftovers are unable to be washed out of their containers, then it cannot go in the yellow bag. Anything containing foam, including Styrofoam and plastic toys do not go in this bag either.

These are special bio bags you can buy at a German supermarket. Brown paper bags also work well
These are special bio bags you can buy at a German supermarket. Brown paper bags also work well

Next, the brown can. This is for biodegradable items such as vegetable scraps, eggshells, grass trimmings and so on. Meat can go in this bin, but we personally choose not to do so as we keep a smaller can in our kitchen and the meat smells over summer time are not ideal! Never put plastic, metals, glass or animal waste in this container.

The blue can is for paper and cardboard materials. It is the biggest can and we are often surprised at how quickly it fills up as it is usually collected once a month in the Kaiserslautern district. This one is a little more simple – newspapers, magazines, cardboard boxes, wrapping paper and so on. Paper must be ‘clean’ to be in this bin – so used pizza boxes and tissues don’t belong here.

The left is our bio bin and the right is our non-recyclable bin. We transfer to the large cans outside once or twice a week - more often in summer
The left is our bio bin and the right is our non-recyclable bin. We transfer to the large cans outside once or twice a week – more often in summer

One thing that surprises a lot of people is that the black, non-recyclable can is quite small. It’s usually the same size as the biodegradable can. However, we have found that over time we barely fill the black can by the time it is picked up. Sanitary items such as used tissues, wipes, diapers, worn out clothing, animal waste and so on go in this bin. We find that most of our waste ends up being recycled in the yellow sack and blue cans.

Glass recycling depot in our town
Glass recycling depot in our town

When we first arrived, we were told that glass is also recycled but it is not picked up from the roadside like everything else. Our glass ended up collecting in the garage until one day we finally packed it all in the car and drove around our village looking for the glass drop off. Every village has at least one glass recycling point. Glass is sorted into clear, brown and green. If it isn’t one of those particular colors, then it goes into the green glass bin. Our village requires that glass can only be dropped off during certain hours – Monday though Saturday 9am-1pm and 3-7pm.

If you have been to German grocery stores, then you may have noticed a machine usually to the side of the entrance. This is for recycling bottles that have a ‘pfand’ attached to them – a small deposit that you will get back in the form of a coupon to the grocery store once you return the bottle. Using the machine is simple – place the bottle in the hole, the machine will pull it in and either accept or reject it, and if it is accepted then it will go through the machine. Place the bottles in one after another (crates go in a separate door) and at the end press the button for your coupon. Give this to the store’s cashier when paying and it will reduce the total of your bill.

After cleaning out the house one day and realizing that the movers had damaged some of our furniture, we ended up wondering what on earth to do about the bulky, oversized trash that we had. There are two recycling centers in the Kaiserslautern area that deal with this issue. The Kindsbach recycling center is at Hirtenpfad 65 and the ZAK recycling center is at Zentrale Abfallwirstschaft, Kaiserslautern Kapiteltal. We were also able to drop off used car tires at the ZAK center free of charge. The other option is to wait for a bulk waste pick up. Each household in the Kaiserslautern district is eligible for two pick ups a year, up to five cubic meters per household. If you call, email or fax (information provided below) then within about three weeks a vehicle will come by on a specified day and pick up the trash from your curb.

Yes, it takes awhile to get used to and yes, it does seem like a lot of work at times. However, it does become second nature and your household will end up finding a process that works for you. We began by putting up post it notes by each can reminding us of what belonged in what can for the first few months until we memorized what went where.

For additional information, the following brochure for the Kaiserslautern district is written in English:

http://www.kaiserslautern-kreis.de/fileadmin/media/Dateien/Abfallwirtschaft/Muelltipps/Garbage_Guide_Druckversion_eng.pdf

Bulk waste: 06371-7105-500/sperrmuell@kaiserslautern-kreis.de

Kindsbach recycling center hours:

Wednesday-Friday 1300-1700
Saturday 0900-1300

ZAK recycling center hours:

Monday-Thursday 0800-1200, 1300-1600
Friday 0800-1200, 1300-1700
Saturday 0800-1200


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