Recycling in Germany is taken very seriously by Germans.  I have heard of fights erupting among neighbors in apartment houses over improper sorting.  To help you with figuring out what goes where, I’ve compiled this little guide.

First, there can be up to three containers at your residence or in public places.  There’s the paper and cardboard container that is denoted by the color blue, depending on where you live.  Then there are the plastic yellow bags, believe it or not the color is yellow with black writing telling you exactly what you can put in this very fragile, flimsy-looking, thin and very poorly-designed yellow bag.  Then there finally is the brown biological waste container, and the grayish black household waste container.

In addition to these containers, you will find containers in your neighborhood for glass, shoe, and clothing collection.  At the entrances of home improvement, electronics, and some grocery stores, you will find used battery collection boxes.  You may need to store hazardous materials for some time until your city or town announces that it will be collecting these items.
Finally, there are scheduled pickups for large items, like old sofas and the like.  In large cities, you will generally be notified of the dates for pickups, but in smaller towns you will likely need to call and schedule a pickup yourself (in our town, we get one free pickup a year, more than one and we need to pay for them to come by).

Recycling in Germany can seem difficult, but once you get used to recycling it becomes secon nature. Also, what’s acceptable can vary slightly from place to place, as can the color of the bins.  I looked over the instructions for several cities, and listed items that were accepted by all.  Some cities accept things that other cities don’t, so to find out for sure what you can and can’t recycle, and what bin it goes in if what I have here doesn’t seem to match up with your bins, check the official website of the city or district you live in.

What goes in the Grüne/Blaue Tonne (green or blue can) for paper and cardboard recycling?

  • Paper and cardboard packaging marked with or without a Grüne Punkt(Green Dot), for example, cartons for salt, laundry detergent)
  • uncoated frozen food packaging
  • newspapers, magazines, junk-mail
  • notebooks, writing pads, writing paper, envelopes, computer paper
  • packing paper, corrugated cardboard
  • books without covers, catalogs

What goes in the yellow bags is plastic and compound materials recycling?

  • plastic food containers, like for yogurt or margarine
  • plastic bottles, for example, body wash, shampoo, sunscreen, laundry detergent,    juice bottles
  • plastic wrap, plastic bags (like from inside the cereal box, or shopping bags)
  • vacuum-pack bags, for example, coffee bags
  • Styrofoam packaging, also for meats, fruits and vegeta yebles
  • nets that citrus and potatoes come in
  • aluminum foil, lids, trays
  • paper or plastic plates, plastic utensils
  • fast food mayonnaise, mustard, ketchup packets
  • tin drink and food cans
  • aerosol cans (hairspray, deodorant, etc.)
  • tubes for toothpaste, stain remover, tomato paste, etc.
  • plastic bottle screw-tops
  • milk and juice cartons
  • pharmaceutical blister-packs


What goes in the BIO Tonne (brown can) for biological waste?

  • garden clippings, weeds, grass cuttings
  • foliage and plants, including houseplants
  • feathers and hair from pets
  • paper towels
  • fruit and vegetable peels and leftovers, including citrus fruits
  • coffee grounds and filters
  • tea and tea bags
  • egg shells
  • flowers
  • bread and cheese
  • spoiled food
  • nut shells
  • organic pet litter, like hay, straw, wood shavings
  • untreated wood
  • Christmas trees (no tinsel)

What goes in the Altglastonne (old glass containers)?

  • non-returnable glass jars and bottles
  • marmalade, jam, jelly, preserve jars
  • packaging made from glass
  • blue glass (goes in the green glass container)

What does not go in the Altglastonne (old glass containers)?

  • light bulbs
  • ceramic and porcelain
  • mirror, window and plate glass
  • crystal
  • ceramic stove tops
  • auto windshields
  • fireproof glass