Do You Know How To Recycle In Germany?

Germany is a world leader in recycling. Although the country produces more than 30 millions tons of garbage every year, we have an advanced recycling collection system to avoid waste piles. Some waste is even burned at special facilities that provide steam energy to create electric power for our cities.

Understanding how to recycle in Germany is something locals have learned over time. We separate our trash instinctively and enthusiastically.

There are even reports of German soldiers in Afghanistan habitually separating their waste, despite the lack of a formal system.

It’s simply the German way. ;-)

How The German Recycling System Works

For newcomers, recycling in Germany takes a bit of getting used to!

To begin, unlike many other developed nations, Germany doesn’t have one single recycling bin. Typically, there are at least four bins. Each color manages a different kind of waste, and the bins are supplemented by other collection programs for glass, batteries, and miscellaneous goods.

Brown Bins

Brown bins are for biological waste. This includes kitchen scraps and garden clippings. Other items that go in the brown bin are coffee filters, tea bags (without the paper tag), feathers, sawdust, and hair.

Blue Bins

Blue bins are for paper and cardboard. In some ways, this is the easiest one! All of your papers, boxes, tea tags, and magazines go here, although you should remember to flatten boxes first and to throw in dry paper only.

Yellow Bins

Yellow bins are for plastics and metals — often also represented by the Der grüne Punkt sign (a round circle with two arrows pointing to each other). Plastic wrap, food cans, yogurt cups, shopping bags, and soap bottles go here.

They do ask that you rinse items before putting them into this bin (remember my “enthusiastically” note in the first paragraph? ;-).

Gray Bins

Gray bins are for household waste a.k.a. Restmüll. Light bulbs (the old models), diapers, tissues, cigarette butts, and photographs are some of the things that go here. Also these items are burned when collected.

Glass and Batteries

Glass bottles and batteries are recycled publicly. You will see large bins for glass recycling in most public places. It is separated by color, always.

Batteries are collected at supermarkets and shopping malls.


In Germany, we also have Sperrmüll, which refers to miscellaneous items. Typically, Sperrmüll days will be announced as a time when municipal trucks will come around for all of the other things you want to have thrown away, like broken furniture, old lamps, or sofas. You place it on the curb outside of your house.

Sounds like it is heading for the landfill, right? Wrong! Second-hand goods dealers, junk collectors, and enterprising locals often collect the Sperrmüll long before anyone from the city arrives to get it. No sense letting something that can be used again be thrown away by your neighbors! ;-)



12 Responses to “Do You Know How To Recycle In Germany?”

  1. […] know from reading about recycling in Germany that we Germans care deeply for the environment. However, on Thomasnacht, when you see someone […]

  2. Hello Marcus-
    I just found this short, interesting blog about recycling. I am living in Sarajevo and really saddened about the lack of recycling here. Before, I was trying to research the profitability of a recycling “business” working within and contracted by the local municipality- as a social enterprise project. I assumed that Germany is successful with recycling because it saves/makes money to support an extensive system.
    Can you help me in my search for how recycling works in your country, who runs it and who “profits” from it (providing a great public service and jobs) and how it started.

    • Marcus says:

      Hi Luka,

      As far as I know, the biggest recycling company, and eventually the main introducer of the German recycling system in the first place, is a company called Duales System Deutschland GmbH (DSD), also known under their Der Grüne Punkt brand, which is known as The Green Dot in other European countries.

      Feel free to go to their website, provided in the last sentence, to learn more about it.


  3. somebody speacial says:

    hi marcus,
    what happens to the rubbish that can’t be burnt? i need to no b4 10th november!!

  4. Avdesh says:

    Hi Markus,
    Thank you for providing this useful information about recycling in Germany. Continuing from your previous that states”rinsing the items before throwing”. Do we have to remove lids of the plastic bottles before throwing them in recycling bin. Recycling companies in Australia prefers it.
    Thank you
    Kind Regards

  5. John Rayner says:

    Hello Marcus,
    I am a South African. While there are localised recycling centres, such as schools and community centres here, it is more a voluntary effort on the part of our citizenry when it comes to recycling. It irks me when I see my neighbours throw bottles, plastics and cartons away in their municipal bins when there are two schools within a block or two that have a recycling schemes (to raise funds for school and social projects). Yes, I have approached them, but they take no note.
    I was recently in the Algarve, Portugal and saw they have a similar system to the German recycling one. The UK too has a recycling system in place but not to the same intensity (plastics, for instance are not collected in some areas).
    In your country, if citizens did not separate their waste correctly, or at all, is there any legislation to compel them ?

  6. Alia says:

    what about liquid waste?? please tell me

  7. […] I practically declared the U.S. to be the best place to recycle after dealing with the cluster-fuck that is Germany’s waste disposal program. Turns out the country is a world leader in dealing with waste. *hangs head in […]

  8. James says:

    Which bags to use? I see everything about the bins but very little on bags to use. I look in the bin and half the people use whatever bags they have. Which bags are biodegradable? Green for food waste? Yellow for plastic? What’s the deal?

  9. […] The Germans are a people that recycle with a vengeance. It’s a bit intimidating as an outsider to learn their system. […]

  10. Dave says:

    Don’t forget to mention that the burning of the plastic waste in incinerators gives rise to carcinogenic air pollutants. Its better not to produce the plastic shit in the first place but if you do its best then to bury it in the interests of public health.

  11. […] you know how to recycle in Germany?», My German City [en ligne], ,  [page consultée le 14 […]

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