Recycling Rules

Environmental awareness in Germany is extremely high. In a country with limited natural resources and high population density, it is not surprising that there is broad consensus on recycling, conservation and renewable energy. Indeed, cloudy and cold Gemany has become one of the leading adopters of solar energy. This high level of enviromental awareness also manifests itself at the household level. Germans are among the most prolific sorters of trash, and with good reason. Their effort to combat the excesses of consumer culture have led to a drastic reduction of waste and innovative strategies which have been modeled across Europe.

As a newcomer to Germany, it is important to familiarize yourself with local recycling regulations and to play by the rules. One of the best ways to get into an argument with your new neighbors is to disregard local rubbish policies. Admittedly, Germany’s recycling rules are complex and vary from town to town. Some cities place bins in your apartment building or house, other cities have set up centralized collection points. But ignorance is no excuse: brochures are available from local authorities, or you can just ask one of your neighbors.As a general rule, everything is recycled in Germany. If you ever find yourself struggling to know what goes where, simply ask a neighbor: Germany is home to more than 80 million professional trash sorters! What follows is a very brief overview of recycling.

Deposit Bottles:

Over the past several years Germany has introduced a comprehensive deposit system (Pfandsystem) of 25 cents per plastic bottle or aluminum can and eight cents for glass bottles – mostly for beer and mineral water. This deposit system covers all carbonated beverages, water and beer, but it excludes for some strange reason both wine and non-carbonated drinks. To collect your deposit you can bring bottles back to a supermarket or beverage store, most of which now have automated machines. Your best bet is to return them directly to the shop where you bought them, because some stores annoyingly refuse to accept bottles from brands they do not carry.


Every piece of glass for which you did not pay a return deposit (Pfand) should be placed in the designated glass bins which can be found throughout all towns and cities. Glass is sorted by color: green, white and brown.


Newspapers, magazines, cardboard boxes and any packaging consisting of paper or cardboard belongs in the Altpapier bins. These bins are green or blue, depending on where you live and sometimes only the lid is green or blue. Cardboard boxes should first be flattened before being deposited.


Aluminium, tin cans, plastic wrappings and containers, polystyrene, and objects made of composite materials like beverage cartons or spray cans, belong in the yellow bins. A sure way of knowing what objects belong in the yellow bin is to look for the Green Dot symbol (Grüner Punkt).

Bio-degradable waste:

Kitchen scraps, peels, leftover food, coffee filters, tea bags and trimmings from your garden belong in the brown waste bin labeled Biotonne. This waste accounts for 50% of all the waste produced in Germany.

Old clothes and shoes:

These are regularly picked up at your curb by various charity organizations, who will announce their visit a few days before hand. Otherwise, there are containers for old clothes and shoes set up by commercial companies around the city.

Unwanted appliances, old furniture, and large household objects:

These items are called Sperrmüll in German and are picked up three to four times a year on pre-arranged dates. In some cities you will need to contact your trash collector for a pick-up appointment.

Household waste:

If after all of this throwing away of trash you have anything left, place it in the gray bin, the contents of which are termed Restmüll. This includes cigarette butts, personal hygiene items, textiles, diapers and old kitchen objects.

And don’t forget that if you ever find yourself struggling to figure out what goes where, just ask one of your neighbors.