For many volunteers coming to Germany from all over the world the first thing drawing their attention is waste separation. At the very beginning such a well functioning system makes a lot of stress for newcomers (honestly speaking it makes some Germans mad as well). The good news is that there are some basic guidelines to follow.
Why do we need to separate waste?
Since many of the waste consist of man-made materials, they decompose in landfills for hundreds of years, poisoning everything around. However there is only one method that helps to avoid destroying nature and not harmful to human health - recycling. Recycling not only helps in conserving our natural resources but also reduces the cost of production of many products. To manage the smooth process of recycling we need to make our own contribution - to separate waste manually at the household.
It’s high time to ask - What goes where?
In big cities, there are four different bins in almost every backyard. Only certain types of waste may be thrown into each bin:
Yellow Bins: plastic packaging. Plastic items and other non-paper packaging materials go in here (e.g. aluminum foil, plastic bags, tins, yoghurt cups, juice and milk cartons/Tetra-packs, plastic bottles).
Green/Blue Bins: paper products and cardboard (e.g. envelopes, paper bags, newspapers, catalogs, magazines, writing paper, cartons).
Black/Gray Bins: it is supposed to be for “other” trash. Basically if it doesn’t quite fit in the other categories, it goes in the black. In another words, household waste and all other types of waste that cannot be recycled (e.g. porcelain, hygiene articles, dirty packaging, shoes, broken clothes, household items, vacuum cleaner bags).
Brown Bins: mostly for food waste and leftovers as well as for garden waste (e.g. coffee and tea dregs, fruit and vegetables remains, eggshells, leaves, napkins).
Reusable bottles and cans
Firstly, there are two types of bottles: disposable and returnable. Reusable means that the bottle is going to get refilled in the company. Disposable bottles, in the other hand, would get recycled but can no longer be used as a bottle, which makes them less nature-friendly.
On Disposable bottles, you will find a sign with a can and a bottle, which is framed by an arrow (the logo of German Deposit System or "Deutsche Pfand-System GmbH"). Returning the bottles or cans with such symbol means you will receive a 25-cent deposit at the automatic recycling machine almost in each supermarket. The machine will spit out a receipt with your refund amount. Then when you buy your groceries, the refund gets applied to your total. Or you can just hand the cashier your receipt and get your refund in cash.
Returnable bottles, there is often no labeling at all, sometimes there is a blue angel sign or the word "reusable bottle" („Mehrwegflasche“). Whether glass or plastic, for returnable bottles you receive 15 cent deposit. There is an 8-Cent deposit for each beer bottle.
The story about other glass bottles…
Glass bottles with no deposit on them go to one of three outdoor recycling bins, sorted by color; one for white glass, one for brown glass and one for stained glass (blue or green).
What to do with clothes/shoes/pillows/blankets you don’t really need anymore but they are still in good condition?
Probably you have seen lots of times bins of Red Cross among the streets in your city. Such type of stuff goes to these bins and will be donated to people in need or in difficult life situation.
By and large, Germany teaches us to feel responsible not only for separating waste properly, but also for reducing our own household production of waste. There are lots of opportunities for that: use lunchboxes and hot/cold containers for meal and drinks for the road, buy local products that does’t need plastic packaging, use cloth bags instead of plastic bags and many many other ideas.
Be green and run environmentally friendly lifestyle!