Wednesday, December 1, 2010

Taking the trash out - German style

There's a lot to learn about trash and recycling in Germany. In Munich, there’s an entire website dedicated to what goes where and even an interactive game where you can virtually sort waste. 

Waste is divided into several categories, the first three of which we can easily dispose of just outside our apartment:
  • Restmüll - non-toxic, non-recyclable or otherwise compostable other waste.  
  • Bio - pronounced like BO which it kind of smells like since it consists of food scrapes and other organic materials (but not cat case you were wondering. Yeah, we checked). The cool thing about bio waste is that the city collects and composts it so you can complete the circle by buying it back as fertilizer for your garden.
  • Paper.
We have restmüll, bio and paper bins outside our apartment

The majority of the other categories, we bundle up and carry to a disposal station down the street. These stations, called Wertstoffinsel, are all over the city and accept:
  • Brown glass.
  • Green glass.
  • Clear glass.
  • Certain types of aluminum - for example aluminum cans are OK but not aluminum foil. 
  • Materials labeled with a Grüne Punkt - such as most plastic product packaging.
Wertstoffinsel disposal station - for this we just take a short walk down the street

Aside from the slight annoyance of looking a bit homeless by trekking the sidewalks, garbage bags in tow, the bins themselves don’t have lids you can lift. They have holes about the size of a small salad plate so you have to dig into your bag of crap and toss items in almost one at a time. In part, I think it’s the city’s way of “encouraging” you to bring your own reusable packaging to stores or get items like cheese wrapped in paper from the deli instead of the plastic, commercially packed kind. If so, it’s working. I’m much more conscious of product packaging when I buy groceries now.

And of course, other items such as wood, cork, clothing, electronics, chemicals, batteries or toxic waste must be taken to a special handling facilities. Cat poop, as toxic as it smells, is fortunately considered restmüll, again, just in case you were wondering...

And if you think you can shirk your waste disposal duties, think again. There’s trash police! Occasionally, the bins outside your residence may be inspected to help ensure proper waste disposal adherence. If you’re caught breaking the rules, you could be fined. As Thomas said, imagine what people in the U.S. would say about that! The government is in your trash can! GASP!

Sure the process seems complicated at first, and it's certainly less convenient than in the states (mostly because many people either don't bother to recycle or recycling centers sort items for them), but it’s much better for the environment. So if it means a cleaner tomorrow, I’m more than happy to sort, transport and even reduce our household waste. And eventually I’ll master the system so I can stop asking Thomas so where does this go? ten times a day.


  1. LOL! This post really made me laugh. I had no idea that there was so much to learn about garbage before moving to Germany. Unfortunately, we don't have a Restmüll or Bio bin so this stuff just gets thrown in with the regular, but we still have the plastic and glass bottle sorting :). I'm glad we have German men to help us with this!

  2. @Expat - True true! Without Thomas, I'd be sure to violate tons of waste rules, haha.

  3. I also find the Alte Kleidung bins convenient :)

  4. where does the toilette paper go? with the restmull or with the paper?

  5. how can find the schdule of garbage out in grunwald,munich?