What goes where?

In big cities, there are four different bins in almost every backyard. In the countryside, you may have to drive to a recycling plant to find all these bins. Alternatively, you can wait for the next collection date and keep specific items, e.g. in your garage or cellar until then. You can find out when the garbage is picked up in the so-called "waste calendar" (Abfallkalender), which is delivered to your mailbox once a year- you can also obtain the calendar from the town hall (Rathaus).

Only certain types of waste may be thrown into each bin:

  • Yellow Bins (also „yellow bags“ or „Grüner-Punkt-Müll“): Light-weight packaging, i.e. all packaging which are not made of glass or paper (for example aluminum foil, plastic bags, tins, yoghurt cups, Tetra-packs in which juice and milk are sold, plastic bottles and coffee packs)
  • Green or Blue Bins: Paper waste and cardboard (for example, paper bags, newspapers, catalogs, writing paper, cartons, cigarette packs). Please note: Very old/stained paper, e.g. paper packages of groceries, ought to be put in the residual waste bin and Tetra-packs (in which juice and milk are sold) belong in the yellow sack or bin.
  • Black or Gray Bins: residual waste or household waste and all other types of waste that cannot be recycled (for example, porcelain, hygiene articles, dirty packaging, damaged shoes or utensil, vacuum cleaner bags, diapers, cigarette butts, window glasses).
  • Bio Waste or Brown Bin: compostable kitchen and garden waste (e.g. coffee and tea dregs, fruit and vegetables remains, eggshells, leaves).

On fluechtlingshilfe-dahlem.com, you can find out more about various waste bins and containers.

What do I need to know about deposit (“Pfand”)?

Since 2003, there has been a so-called "compulsory deposit system" ("Pfandflicht") concerning specific beverage packagings in Germany: If you buy drinks and beverages sold in particular plastic and glass bottles or cans in a supermarket,  you initially pay a few cents more. Then, if you later return them empty to the supermarket's collection point or "Leergutannahmestelle" (often an automatic machine), you will get back those few cents, which is known as "Pfand" (deposit). There are two different types of bottles you can return:

  • On disposable bottles, you will find a square 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 that bear such a symbol means you will receive a 25-cent deposit at Refund centres in each supermarket.
  • On returnable bottles, you will often find no labeling at all, sometimes there is a blue angel sign or the word "reusable bottle" („Mehrwegflasche“, „Leihflasche“ or "Pfandflasche“). Whether glass or plastic, for returnable bottles you receive 15 cent deposit. There is an 8-Cent deposit for each beer bottle.

If you have no time or desire to return your returnable bottles, you can also leave them in a visible spot next to a trash can on the street. Many people in Germany collect and return these bottles to earn a little money.

What shall I do with glass bottles with no deposit?

Glass bottles with no “Pfand” on them (i.e. bottles of wine, cooking oil, vinegar, sauces, marmalades or preserved food) have to be disposed of in specific containers. There are usually two or three containers: one for white glass, one for brown glass and one for stained glass (blue or green). Make sure you don’t throw your glass bottles into the containers in early morning or late at night:  since it can be quite loud, it is forbidden to do so before 8 A.M. and after 8 P.M. For more information check this video about breach of peace.

Please note: Drinking glasses, window glass and teapots or glass cups do not belong in the glass container. You have to dispose of this type of glasses in the residual waste bin.

What can I do with special waste, electrical waste, bulky waste and old clothing?

You are not permitted to throw special waste, electrical waste, bulky waste and old clothing items in household waste bins. Special waste and electrical waste, in particular, can gravely harm the nature and our health and must be disposed separately of household waste. In most municipalities, these types of waste are disposed of at the recycling depots. You sometimes have to pay a small fee for the disposal. For electrical waste, however, you will occasionally receive some money. You can find a recycling depot nearby by googling the word „Recyclinghof“ along with the name of your town/district. You can also ask the municipality (Bürgeramt) in your area.

  • Special waste: medicines, solvents, batteries, energy-saving lamps, fluorescent tubes, pesticides and half-emptied containers of paints and adhesives. In some cities, there are pick-up services available for collecting such waste, but in other cities you have to personally take it to the recycling depot. You can learn more by asking your municipality. Energy-saving lamps, LED and batteries could be also disposed of at drugstores and hardware stores.
  • Electrical scrap: All devices through which electric current flows. In some federal states and cities, there are collecting containers for smaller electrical appliances, in the others, one has to go to a depot or wait for the pick-up service. You can learn more by asking your municipality. To dispose of small electronic devices (such as cell phones or MP3 players), you can also hand them to large electronics stores. Larger appliances, however, are only accepted by electronics stores if you buy a similar new product there.
  • Bulky waste: bulky items and household appliances which do not fit in normal bins due to their size or weight. They could be Items of metal, wood or just substantial chunks of residual waste. You can take these items to a recycling depot personally. In many cities, there are specific schedules for picking up the bulky waste. The best is to ask the municipality in your area.
  • Old clothing items: In every German city, there are clothing containers in which one can dispose of the unwanted but usable clothes. On the Website of the German Red Cross you can find a donation container for clothes nearby.

How can I reduce waste?

A few tips to avoid waste production by conscious consumption:

  • buy regional products without plastic packaging,
  • purchase durable goods and buy less,
  • get a lunchbox and hot/cold drink container for the road,
  • use baskets and fabric shopping bags instead of plastic bags,
  • exchange, borrow and repair items- this way, you can also save money.

Further pro-environmental ideas are available on http://www.refugeeguide.de in various languages. If you would like to get involved in environmental protection and preservation, you can find plenty of regional projects nearby on the website of the Nature and Biodiversity Conservation Union or Naturschutzbund.