A quick guide to sorting waste in Germany

A quick guide to sorting waste in Germany



No matter how confusing it might be - sometimes, sorting your waste the right way is not difficult! Here is how.

In Germany, all the kids get to hear the fairytale of “Aschenputtel”. “Aschenputtel” is a typical fairytale girl and besides prevailing against her evil stepmother and marrying the prince in the end, she has the necessary task of sorting mixed peas and lentils throughout the story.

Now, that might be more or less interesting for you to know. So why am I telling you this? Because when trying to sort waste in Germany, you sometimes might feel like “Aschenputtel” – at least I did as a child!

Paper towels in one container, moulding fruit in another one and what do to about empty bottles again? In the end, I got to confess that Aschenputtel isn’t the best metaphor because sorting the waste is definitely not unnecessary! It helps the recycling process a lot. In many cases, sorting is even what makes recycling possible in the first place! No matter how confusing it might be sometimes, sorting your waste the right way is not difficult and it gets us one step closer to leading a sustainable life. So, here is my guide:


Plastic waste always belongs in containers with a yellow lid or in the “Gelber Sack” which is a yellow plastic sack to put the waste in. You can get those yellow sacs for free at the output points. (Google will gladly tell you about the local output points, there are more than you think ;))

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This one is very simple: Paper and cartons are sorted into containers with a blue lid. Make sure not to put any cardboard boxes next to the container, it might be tempting because it’s so much easier than folding it properly and putting it in there – but than it won’t be taken with the waste collection!

Paper waste

Biological waste

Everything that will rot with time belongs in the brown containers. These are the ones that usually smell the most, especially on hot summer days… but if you know that all the icky matter in there will eventually be soil for fragrant flowers, that’s okay! Maybe you don’t even have a brown container but a compost heap in the backyard – that works just as well!

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All of the old jars and bottles can be recycled and are therefore collected in glass containers. You can find them all over the city – just take a look at Google maps! I’m sure the next one isn’t far from your home. But beware of the German organisation – there are times when it is not allowed to throw your glass waste in there because it’s pretty noisy. Make sure to dispose of your saved glass between 07:00 and 19:00 o’clock on Mondays to Saturdays – Sunday is a general “rest day” and no one wants to be disturbed 🙂

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In Germany, you pay a little extra for most of the bottles you buy, which you get back if you return them to the supermarket – just like a small deposit! We call it “Pfand” so all the bottles you pay “Pfand” for, are “Pfandflaschen” (that pretty much translates to deposit bottles).

You can recognise “Pfandflaschen” by a little symbol at the etiquette. If you want to return them, you can find stations at nearly every supermarket (Honestly, these automats are a weird species of technology, if there are more than two of them at least one is broken! ).

Apropos, if you’re having a “Pfandflasche” and you’re currently missing the opportunity to bring it to the supermarket. don’t throw them in the waste! Place them next to one of the public bins, so that people in need of money can collect them and get the deposit.

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And all the stuff that’s left

Everything that can’t fit in one of the other categories is “Restmüll” or leftover waste. This stuff belongs in the containers which a completely black. And believe me, it’s not as tempting to just dispose of verything in the “Restmüll”, as you might think. In fact, as a private person, you have to pay the waste collection company only for emptying the black containers. The emptying of the other containers is free.

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Little secret: As a FIZZie you don’t need to worry about that anyways because it’s already included in your monthly rent. But in that case, make sure, to dispose of your waste in the containers – not next to it. Laziness is no excuse (and psst, neither are the mistakes of other people) if we want to gain a profit from recycling our waste, we need to start with sorting and disposing of it the right way.

Okay, I’m gonna stop lecturing you… You know the clichés, Germans like to know that everything
is in order. Go easy on us 😉

I hope this little sorting guide could help.

All photo rights by International Campus GmbH.