cultural difference 19: recycling

May 6, 2010

Germany recycles about 75% of its waste (compared to 30% in the US). We Germans have made an art form out of sorting our garbage into color-coded bins:

Green bins are for paper and cardboard. In some cities, that’s a blue bin.

Plastic and all packaging that has a “green point” (e.g., milk cartons, cans, etc.) goes into yellow bins or yellow bags.

Biological waste like potato peels goes into the “Bio-Tonne,” the brown bin (or on the compost heap, if you have one).

The gray bin is the “Rest-Tonne” – but certainly not all the rest goes there. Mainly, you put things like diapers in the gray bin, but not glass, batteries, etc.

Each bin has its own trash day, by the way, so sometimes it’s hard to keep up with all the schedules.

For plastic bottles, Germany has a system that has you pay a twenty-five cent deposit for each bottle. You get back your money when you return the bottle to a grocery store.

For the glass bottles that are not returnable, every neighborhood has large containers into which you sort the bottles by color. There are also containers where you can put your old clothes and shoes.

And we have “Sperrmüll,” days on which you put old furniture and stuff like that on the curb in front of your house. Often, other people will drive by and pick it up before the garbage truck comes by.

Phew. I think this might be the reason why we have more national holidays in Germany. We need the time to sort our garbage 🙂



  1. This is very impressive. Too bad we’re not as advanced in the US considering how much waste we generate per capita.

    In my previous home, we had 3 bins: trash, yard waste, bottles/cans/paper. In my current home, it’s down to two, so yard waste is combined with trash. Not quite sure I see the logic in that.

  2. I think even the German immigration test has some questions about our trash sorting system.

    It’s a good first step, but of course it doesn’t necessarily reduce the amount of waste we generate.

    • You’re right, it doesn’t reduce the amount of waste – but it’s a good way to start a war with your neighbours 🙂
      I don’t know how often I heard complains about someone throwing something into a bin that doesn’t belong there…

      • You’re so right. World War III has been fought over sorting trash in my neighborhood too.

        But then it’s also a nice way to bond with your neighbors when you drag their bins to the curb because they forgot or got confused by the schedule 🙂

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