How to get your money back while saving the earth
How to get your money back while saving the earth

Germans are notorious for their recycling. This guide will go through what goes in each colored bin.

Europeans, and Germans, in particular, are environmentally conscious. If one takes a walk through a German town on some mornings, the colored bins may seem to form a rainbow. Here is how to determine where to put trash, recyclables and anything else that needs to go out.


If you buy a drink from a supermarket or convenience store, you have to pay a little extra for the container. That extra cost is called the pfand (deposit). The cost can vary between eight cents and 25 cents, depending on the material used. Glass containers usually cost eight cents, plastic costs either 15 or 25 cents and aluminum costs 25 cents. These containers can be returned to the store and the pfand will be returned in the form of a receipt that you take to the cashier. But if the label on a drink says “pfandfrei” (deposit free), there is no pfand to pay or get back.


For any glass container that does not have a pfand, such as wine bottles or pasta sauce, it goes into containers that can be found around where you live. The glass must go into separate containers for whichever color the glass is: clear, green or brown. The glass that goes into these large containers is called "Altglass", meaning 'old glass'. 


Any clean paper products, including cardboard boxes, should be placed in bins labeled “Papier” (paper) or “Altpapier” (old paper). They are usually blue or have a blue lid. Stained paper, such as used pizza boxes, should not be placed in this bin.

Plastics, aluminum

Plastic and aluminum containers that cannot be collected for pfand should be placed in yellow bins. These include medication bottles, yogurt cups and spray cans. Sometimes the yellow bin is a yellow sack instead. The containers should be rinsed before they are put in the bin, so that the recycling process can be a little easier.


Leftover or uncooked food should be placed in bins marked “Biomüll” (biodegradable). These bins are typically brown or green. Used tea bags can also be disposed of here.

Old clothes

If there are some shirts or pants that are too big or too small laying around, there are containers in most cities that will give them to charities.

Large, unwanted household items

If there is a big chair or an old TV that is just gathering dust, it can be left outside on specific days of the year for Sperrmüll (bulky waste) pick up. Sometimes, a special appointment must be made in order for the waste to be picked up.

Hazardous waste

Do not throw batteries or paint in with the trash. There are parts of the battery, and other dangerous waste, that release poisonous gas if they are burned. Some grocery stores recycle batteries, while other potential hazardous wastes must be picked up by appointment or taken to proper facilities.


Anything small that cannot be recycled goes into the black bins labeled Restmüll (residual waste). Cigarettes and diapers are some examples of what belongs in these bins.


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