Three months later, this is still almost a daily question that Derek and I ask each other, and while it’s mostly in jest now, it highlights a confusing element of life in Germany. You’d think trash sorting would be a fairly straightforward process, right? Separate glass and plastics and maybe your compost-y stuff, and you’re good to go. But I must say, I’m still flummoxed by the process here, and evidently I’m not the only one.
There are several different-colored bins in which to put your trash, but even the color of the bins can be inconsistent from one place to the next, so be careful from the get-go! A couple of the categories/colors are seemingly self-explanatory, but upon further reflection actually can be quite confusing.
Your paper and cardboard go into the blue (or sometimes green) bin. Easy, right? Well, yes, unless you remember that paper or cardboard that is too soiled doesn’t actually belong here; it goes in the “Restmüll” bin. What is “too soiled,” you might ask? That seems to be up to the discretion of the trash generator.
The brown bin is for your “bio” rubbish. Eggshells, coffee grounds, food scraps, dead flowers that looked pretty a week ago, etc. We’ve read that paper towels and napkins can go in the bio bin (like coffee filters and tea bags), but then we’ve had guests in our apartment who’ve assured us that paper napkins or paper towels should never be put in there; they (like tissues) should go in Restmüll because they are usually very soiled. But then just the other day another friend was over and insisted that the paper towels belong in the paper and cardboard category! Also, some people say you can put any leftover bits of food in here, but others swear you’re not to put cooked food in the bio bins, as it can attract varmints.*
Yellow is Verpackung, or packaging. This can be anything from the plastic bag your bread came in to the rinsed and flattened waxed carton of milk to an aluminum soda can (should you be able to find such a thing!). Hence all of the “What exactly is packaging?” conversations. Your empty yogurt containers? Once you’ve rinsed the residue, in they go! Candy wrappers? If they’re not too soiled, then yes! If they are, Restmüll it up! Even the plastic window of a window-ed envelope goes in here (but not the paper part, obviously).
The black (or sometimes gray or even green!) bin is for Restmüll or what Derek and I refer to as “the rest.” But it’s not really the rest, because while I’ve covered the colored bins, I haven’t yet covered the neighborhood collection points. That’s where you take your glass bottles (after separating them into brown, green, or white glass), but whether or not you’re supposed to leave the lids on is a matter of debate. Also, don’t forget: the bottles (both glass and plastic) that you paid a deposit for don’t go in these collection bins, but back to the store from which you originally bought them. But if you didn’t pay a deposit for a plastic container, it goes into Verpackung. Oh, and if you have any old shoes or clothing that you no longer want, you can put those in the neighborhood collection boxes, too. Unless they’re beyond repair (or soiled – eww): then they go in Restmüll.
Great! All set?
Bottom line is I still don’t know what I’m doing sometimes, but we’ve survived somehow. Good luck to you!
*I’m happy to report that although Derek and I do put some cooked food scraps in our bio bin, we have yet to see a varmint in our apartment. Once we empty our mini bin into the larger one in the garage? No telling what happens there.