Updated: Jul 30, 2021
How would you assess your recycling skills ? How great do you think you know what goes in and not. If you are like me at the beginning of our journey, you think you have a pretty good idea where things go. Oh overconfidence bias!! Then when I actually do recycle, I realised that I made plenty of unverified estimated bets on the blurry grey areas, in a certain guilt free manner. But then I started to challenge this casual Laissez-Faire of mine.
"Do the best you can until you know better. Then when you know better, do better." - Maya Angelou
The issue with inefficient recycling in household is that those aggregated mistakes and or omissions drive up energy and water consumption plus increase the complexity and cost of reprocessing. As a result, it translates in significantly less waste recycled but instead thrown into landfills.
If you are reading this article, we will assume that you believe in recycling as we do and want to get better at it. Actually, it is imperative that we do it correctly.
Finding accurate information is not always so straightforward. Every region, city and town across Germany has their own rules. However, we can erect a few principles, clear up a few areas of ambiguity, shed lights on some misconception and rectify some common recycling mistakes.
Obviously, you need to start by having in your building and in your home dedicated containers and bins for: compost, plastic, paper and one for everything else.
Favor easily recyclable packaging: especially like glass, aluminium. Container that cannot be easily spoiled and or easily washable.
Use the Deposit Bottle system: seriously, use it.
Avoid Cross Contamination : Keep items somewhat clean. Grease and chemicals in particular contaminates recycling. A greasy pizza box is NOT recyclable (general waste).
Read Label : Make sure that the plastic items you put in the packaging container are a recyclable plastic AND was a packaging.
Separate packaging items when possible. If the item you’re disposing of is made up of different materials you need to separate the items into their respective bins, eg, f a jar has a metal lid or if you cardboard box has plastic tape, envelope with a plastic window etc.
Beware and avoid composite packaging. Composite packaging are packaging made of several layers of different plastics and possibly aluminium foil. They are tightly connected that they can no longer be separated. It concerns items such as chocolate/sweets wrappers, instant yeast powder, some single use tea bags etc. Therefore, recycling is impossible and you can only incinerate them.
Ditch the plastic bin liner: When emptying your non-plastic bins make sure you remove your bin liner. It can contaminate and tangle up the reprocessing machine. So assess in which bin(s) you actually truly need bin liners.
What Truly Goes Where
Depending on where you live in the world, your options for recycling may vary. If you do a quick google search, you will see some cities have tailored guidelines and drop off locations for specific items. A little research goes a long way. However, if you are based in Germany like us, you’re in luck, here is a quick break down of what goes where. The information comes from internet search and the public authorities from Frankfurt. So some detail may change depending on the german city you live in.
Yellow / Orange - Packaging Container
Keep in mind we said packaging plastic and not every plastic: your plastic toothbrush, laundry baskets, toys… do not belong in there
Packaging made from metal: tins and cans
Packaging made from plastics: film, cups and styrofoam
Non-refundable plastic bottles, check the bottom of the bottle, if they are refundable take them to your local supermarket and exchange them for store credit
Food containers: condiment bottles, sauce, yoghurt and butter containers
Recyclable composite packaging: vegetable packaging, single item packaging such as drink cartons (Tetra Pak)
Non packaging metals: pots and pans (general waste)
Non packaging plastics: toys, toothbrushes (general waste)
No spoiled packaging (general waste)
Be sure to empty your containers before recycling, leftover shampoo or ketchup and/or mayonnaise in condiment bottles contaminate the system.
Use plastic bags as bin liner.
Do not stack plastic cups (yoghurt, coffee cup, smoothie...) together. It makes the recycling process trickier because each item has to be sorted individually.
Composite packaging are almost impossible to recycle due to the tightened connection of the different layers of the different plastics. They usually can no longer be separated. Therefore, recycling is impossible. Try to buy less wasteful items, eg yoghurt in glass container.
Green / Blue bin - Paper Container
The most important thing for recycling paper is that there is absolutely NO contamination in the recycling bin.
Junk mail, flyers, glossy paper
Clean egg cartons
Clean paper packaging
Wrapping gift paper (if with no other material)
Toilet paper tube
Receipt non coated with BPA (usually grey)
Plastic windows of envelopes (packaging bin)
Receipts are coated with BPA and are not recyclable or compostable (general waste)
Shredded paper : shredded paper is not recyclable The paper fibers have been shortened too much and the small shreds can jam machinery and contaminate bales of other materials ( general waste)
Waxed paper like Baking sheet (general waste)
Coated paper: many brochures and books are laminated with plastic film (general waste)
Papers with adhesive applications that cannot be easily removed, eg post-it (general waste
Toilet / paper napkin (general waste or can be compostable)
Flatten cardboards to make sure you make space in the container
Cut around the grease part a pizza box and separate the spoiled from the good cardboard
Coated paper: When in doubts make a tear test to see if a layer of plastic can be seen
Remove any plastic tape before discarding cardboard
Brown - Compost bin Container
Raw or cooked food waste
Vegetables and fruits, peels etc.
Coffee grinds and filters
Tea bag (not the plastic version)
Garden waste: Flowers, grass, yard trimmings and foliage
Compostable napkins and toilet paper free of chemicals (they are usually brown/not bleached or dyed)
Plastic bags, packaging made from plastic or metal (yellow bin)
Sweepings and hoover bags (general waste)
Cigarette butts (general waste)
Nappies and other used hygiene products (general waste)
Make sure to use a biodegradable liner or not to put the plastic liner in your container
Wrap the waste in a newspaper/kitchen paper to avoid spillage
Gray/ Black - General Waste Container
All waste which cannot be disposed in the other bins
All waste that should go in the other bin but cannot any longer due to excessive food contamination
Dust, ashes, sweeping,
Kitchen towels and dish/cleaning cloths
Vacuum cleaner bags
Mirror, drinking glasses, porcelain, ceramic
Ex-lovers who broke your heart
Tri Glass Container
Clear glass, green glass and brown glass and other colors
All glass containers in which food were packed, but the metal/plastic lids go into the metal and plastics bin (yellow bin)
Non-refundable alcohol bottles, beer and wine
Perfume and cosmetics bottles (separate the lid or the plastic roller for deodorant)
Empty medicine bottles
Drinking glasses, porcelain, earthenware or window glass/shards which have no place in the waste glass container. These are glass compositions with different melting points than normal bottle glass.
Candle glass container (general waste)
Blue, yellow and generally any colored bottles should be thrown into the green glass container. Green glass tolerates this contamination.
Today, the recycling machines for used glass are largely able to sort out the lids and corks left behind in the waste separation process. If you decide to do it anyway, you're doing everything better. The lids then belong in the yellow or recycling bin as well as plastic corks. Natural cork can be disposed of in the residual waste without hesitation. It is more environmentally friendly to hand it in at collection points, for example in wine shops or public recycling centers. The cork can thus be recycled.
Textiles, clothes and shoes, check out this clothing donation bin locator. If the clothing is not donatable, they go in the grey bin.
Batteries, light bulbs and electronics
For batteries, DM, Aldi and REWE
For electronic and big appliances, check with your city waste management for pick up or sometimes electronic stores can take them back
If this article was quite the hassle to read, your next move is to reduce your recycling intake. We do not mean by buying less or recycling less but by buying unpackaged items. Be smart and evaluate your need, even your bin liners when you take a moment to think about it could be ditched.
In any case here is a compilation of the basic rules to keep in mind:
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