“Which trash does this go in?” was a question I asked on almost a daily basis after first arriving in Germany. In the States, discarding of trash is a simple thing. If you don’t want it anymore, you throw it away. End of story. It all ends up in a large bag that gets picked up by the trash collectors once or twice a week. Easy peasy.
Unfortunately, this lazy approach to discarding of our unwanted items is one of the reasons Americans have a bad reputation in Germany. We’re seen as wasters who care nothing about our environment or our children’s future. (But Germans still think we’re pretty awesome so don’t let this little fact get you down. 😉 )
Rather than one oversized bag where all trash goes to die, this is how we do trash in Germany…
Our kitchen sometimes looks like a garbage dump. Neat, huh? Let me explain:
Many plastic and glass items (especially drinks) have a pfand (deposit) that you pay at the time of purchase. To encourage recycling, the deposit is fully refundable when you return the emptied containers. This is even true at theme parks and zoos. If you buy a bottle of water and return the empty bottle, you get maybe 20 cents back. And let me just say… this little fact had my husband practically dumpster diving at the Europa Park in June. I love that he’s cheap, but I draw the line at digging through garbage.
Ok, so in the photo, there’s a black bag full of plastic bottles. There are also a couple of glass beer bottles shown. Soon, we’ll take those to a grocery store, feed them into the large barcode-scanning machine, hit the button to indicate when we’ve finished recycling all our bottles, and it’ll spit out a receipt with the amount of our deposit. We can then take it to the information desk and get cash back, or show the cashier when we check out and she’ll apply the money to our purchase. About a week ago our deposit was around 12€ but our purchase was 9€ and some change so we still got money back, and these two cheapwads practically skipped from the store with feelings that we’d somehow cheated and convinced the store to pay us for shopping there.
Anyway, back to the photo… the tall yellow bag is for all plastic items that don’t have a deposit (like the plastic containers meat and fruit are stored in). These bags get picked up… are you ready for this??? Once a month. That’s right. One time a month the garbage collectors come by and pick up our yellow bags. You can take them to the recycling yard yourself and nearly every month, we have to make at least one trip to the recycling yard because we get tired of storing the plastic until it’s time to be picked up.
The round white bin is for paper. When it’s full, I haul it down 3 flights of stairs, outside and around the corner, and dump it into one of the 6 gigantic bins marked “papier” outside our house. This also gets picked up once a month.
We save our cans because my husband said he can take them somewhere and get money for them. This isn’t part of the recycling requirements. I think most people just throw them away, but like I said… we’re cheapskates.
The random glass bottle you see in the picture doesn’t have a deposit and can’t be thrown away in the regular trash. So what to do with it? I wish I had a picture of the taller-than-me glass collecting bins that you see everywhere in Germany. There are always 4 large bins; white, brown, and green for their corresponding glass colors, and I forget what the red one is for. Seems like it’s batteries or something. So after a while we throw our empty glass bottles in the back of the car and try to remember to stop at a glass dump to get rid of them.
The brown bin in the picture is the worst. That’s the German version of a garbage disposal. All foods go in that bad boy and when it’s full, I begrudgingly walk down 3 flights of stairs, outside and around the corner, hold my breath, and dump that nasty, smelly, gloppy mix of food waste into the large “bio” bin. Then I carry it back upstairs, clean it out in the bathtub, and then scrub the tub. It’s by far my most disgusting household chore and I hate it more than I hate my ridiculous canister vacuum cleaner. When my husband told me the bio bin was for food, I made the silly mistake of putting all food in there, and not long after my arrival in Germany there was a big note posted on the bulletin board downstairs. It read, “Someone put meat in the bio trash and now there are maggots. Please do not put meat in the trash!!!” My neighbors must have known it was the new-to-Germany American girl, and I was so embarrassed that I think I avoided eye contact with all of them for 2 full weeks.
The tiny blue bin in the picture is for restmüll (residual waste). I remember it as the “rest” of the trash after all the tedious recycling is over. It actually gets picked up twice a month, but I wish this got picked up once and plastic got picked up twice because there’s so little trash left over after all the recycling that the most we’ve ever accumulated in a month was two small bags worth of trash.
The saddest part is that I complained about paying $11.00 per month in the States to have my trash picked up once a week, and now we pay around 30€-40€ to have the garbage collectors come by three times a month.
Oddly enough, though, the tediousness of all this doesn’t cause me to even bat an eye. I like knowing we’re protecting the environment, and I get such a kick out of the bottle recycling machines at the grocery stores! It’s so exciting to see how much money we’ll get back!
Ok, yeah… not having a garbage disposal is enough to cause me a little frustration, but only because of having to empty and clean the bin. That’s just gross.