Trash Talk

Thrifty Travel Mama | Expat Life - TrashMy one-year anniversary of living in Germany is coming up fast.  And, can you believe it, I haven’t even told you about my trash yet?

Roll your eyes, shrug your shoulders, whatever.  Trash is big here.

At our old apartment in the US, I tried to recycle.  I really did.  But I pretty much gave up after I saw the apartment complex maintenance men taking whatever didn’t fit in the large bins and shoving it in the trash compactor.  What a waste.   Uh, like literally.

Here in Germany, peeps obey the rules.  And when peeps don’t, the other peeps get hoppin’ mad.  And, because they’re German, they’ve no problem telling you. exactly. how. they. feel.

A typical sight on trash day.. dark gray bins are restmülltonne (everything else), brown bins are bio (compost), green bins are paper (and paper products).

First things first.  Paper.  It’s easy.  It goes in a bin by itself.  But “paper” doesn’t just include discarded scribbles by T-Rex.  Any packaging, grocery bags, egg cartons, pizza boxes, etc made of paper should hop, skip, and jump their way into the Papier bin.

A pfand station at Aldi.

Next easiest – plastic bottles.  I’ve previously told you about pfand, Germany’s way of getting rid of litter by charging a deposit on plastic (and sometimes glass) bottles.  Often, it’s 25 cents, and you get it back when you return the bottle.  Almost all plastic bottles have a pfand.  If they don’t, they go in the yellow bag (below).

Glass receptacles.

Working our way up… Glass.  All glass has to be sorted by color (white/clear, green, or brown), and deposited in special bins in the neighborhood.  But, keep in mind that you can only do this during work hours on work days, which is when I do just about everything else in my life.  No little boys want to stand around while their mama sorts glass!  Needless to say, my glass goes out like once every six weeks.

Just in case you weren’t sure.. No loud, crash/bang/boom noises outside working hours!!

The two most confusing bins/categories for me are the yellow bag (gelbesack) and the “everything else” trash (restmülltonne).  To my knowledge, all packaging with a European recycling logo goes into the yellow bag.  Unless it’s paper.  I think.  And then the yellow bags go into their own dumpster (or just piled by the side of the road on trash day).

The ginormous trash/recycling bins for our building.

It’s a good thing I live in a big building with a ton of internationals.  No one really expects us to get the yellow bag contents right (and I have seen some people just put all their trash in the yellow bags!).  If you live in a normal, nice building and you get distracted by two boys under the age of four screaming at the top of their lungs and oops! accidentally put the wrong thing in the yellow bag, expect the garbage men to leave the smelly thing right where you put it.  What’s more, they’ll slap an angry red sticker on there that says you-big-dunce-you-can’t-you-read-the-sign-and-sort-your-trash-correctly on it.  That’s a direct translation.  Totally.

The attempt at getting the international building to put the right stuff in the right bin. Yeah. Good luck with that.

The restmülltonne is the bin where everything else goes.  Wait, not everything else.  I’m getting ahead of myself.

Batteries get recycled at grocery stores.  CDs get recycled at the library.  And, how could I forget the bio trash?

Any animal or vegetable remains (peels, skin, egg shells and the like) get separated out into a brown bio bin.  Not all buildings do this since apparently it costs more.  Our building definitely does not do this.  But, the first place we lived required it.  My main beef (ha!) with this is the seriously annoying amount of fruit flies and gnats that take up residence in your kitchen.  Icky sticky.

Okay, NOW I think we’ve covered all the separating.  Emphasis on I think.  Exhausting isn’t it?  Whoever would have thought trash would be so.. complicated?

For a more comprehensive article on the subject, check this out.  And, note that the various areas of Germany do the trash sort thing differently.

10 thoughts on “Trash Talk

  1. Wow, the bio trash separation is a bit much, but I am so impressed by the German system! We need to start doing it like that in the US!

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  5. Hmm, (guess, you already know me), as soon as you get your head around this, you will be fine! 😉 Oh, and get one of these:

    for your kitchen and it will not even be more work!
    Nature will be very thankful!

    From an (expat)-mum (from Germany to the Middle-East) who still feels sooooo bad when putting everything into the same bin and thinking of it just thrown away WITHOUT using it again… 😉

    • I also hated throwing everything away when we lived in the US. I agree it’s better for the environment here, but then there is that rumor that all the recycling is actually burned and not recycled… 🙂

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  7. I recently read that some of the pfand bottles are just washed, instead of being melted down and remade into new bottles like in the US. It gave me a whole new perspective on German recycling!

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