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Nov 15, 2011

German Idiosyncrasies: Second Edition

Hello loves! It's time for another installment of 'German Idiosyncrasies'!

Last time I left you with a lot of crap to consider. Literally. If you missed it, you can read about it here. Update on our less than ideal potty situation? Nothing's changed. Still loathe our toilet and it's ledge. Don't you want to come for a visit?! No? Ok, moving on! Today's topic is a little less revolting, but still gross in it's own right. You'll see my point later. And, bonus, you'll learn something too! Aren't you glad you stopped by...again?! Without further adieu, German Idiosyncrasy nummer drei ist:

3. I'm quite positive you should have a PhD in order to be an effective recycling citizen in Germany.

When D and first found out were were moving to Germany, we did LOTS of research on what to expect as far as German living was concerned. Through said research, we became increasingly aware of the recycling habits of the German culture. Germany is the home of about 80 million professional trash sorters. For reals. They take this recycling business super seriously...probably because it's against the law not to recycle. This same concept goes for lots of other countries around the world...except America where it's just strongly suggested to recycle, but only certain things. Truth be told, D and I did recycle back in the states. GASP! I know. Crazy hippies. But it's true. My parents raised me to be a recycling member of society. Ok, they didn't really raise me just to do that...but ever since the city of Winston-Salem shoved that green plastic box into our carport, they've been recycling fools. I used to get yelled at on a daily basis because I was a recycling resister. It was laziness, really. It was just SO much easier to throw my empty water bottle into the trashcan than it was to walk 50 paces to the back door and chuck it in the recycling bin. I'm not ashamed to admit it! No wonder America's the country of the morbidly obese and lazy. Guess karma came around big time for my lazy butt by moving me to the recycling capital of the world. 

Yeah, that'll teach me.

Day 1 of our big move into our awesome flat, our landlord, who speaks broken English, but gives a valiant effort, showed us the recycling bins. The bins...ssssss. Did you catch that? Plural. Bins. There's not 1...not 2...nope, not even just 3...there are 4 different collection bins for recycling and garbage at my house alone. That's not counting the umpteen other bins out in the city where you have to take certain items (like glass bottles, fabrics, and batteries) because they don't pick them up at your home. No siree bob. You've gotta do that all on your own. But, I'll get to that later. Anywho, the landlord begins to tell us about what goes in which bin and what days it goes on the street...and immediately my eyes start to roll into the back of my head and drool comes sliding out of my mouth. RECYCLING INFORMATION OVERLOAD. I basically had a recycling stroke, if you will. I knew he was speaking words to me...but all I heard was mumbling that sounded like the teacher from Charlie Brown. "Wah Plastic Wah Wah Paper Wahhhh." We pretty much just smiled, nodded our heads like idiots, and gave a few perfectly placed "Uh huh's" to show our understanding of the whole recycling shabang. As soon as we got upstairs to the comfort of our own empty apartment, D and I looked at one another with sheer terror in our eyes. What the crappity crap did he just say?! No idea. Not a clue. I wasn't even completely sure I knew what constituted as paper anymore. Seriously. Our landlord had recycling ninja-ed our brains and now it was up to us to figure out the rest. So, we hiked up our bootstraps and dove into researching the wide world of German recycling! 

Wanna know how different (and serious) recycling in Germany is compared to America? This is what we found out and practice daily! (I'll be handing out diplomas at the end. You'll have earned them. Promise.)

Blue bins (or sometimes green bins) with the word 'Altpapier' are for...you guessed it...paper! And cardboard. Magazines, paper wrappers (as long as food isn't still stuck to it), paper bags, broken down cardboard boxes, cereal boxes, and newspapers all go here. But, don't you dare put your dirty tissues in there. Oh no. That goes elsewhere you sick, sick person. I should slap your hand...or give you a high five...because that totally counts as paper to me and I thought it should go there too. Ha. Confusing, isn't it?

{It's paper day! Bins on the side of the street ready for emptying. Looks like someone missed a few sheets. Don't worry...I went and put them in there. Earned my recycling Samaritan badge for the day.}

Yellow bins (and bags) are for all your plastic and metal disposables. Water bottles, soda cans, empty shampoo bottles, tin cans, aluminum foil, plastic wrappers (even the ones off your Kraft Singles cheese slices...tedious, I know), and those pesky yogurt cups, go here. Go ahead and put your empty half gallon milk carton in there. It's plastic! Betcha thought it was paper, huh? I totally did. Fail.

Brown bins...I'm sure you all can guess what goes in that bin. The color totally gives it away. Compost. Yum. All your bio-degradable waste goes here. Table scraps, cooking scraps, peels, leftover foods, coffee filters, and tea bags can be deposited in the brown bin. It smells horridWe got one of the tiny Simplehuman trashcans with the sealing lid to keep the smell at bay. It works, until you open the lid. Then the death cloud comes rising up and slaps you in the face like a rotting corpse from the Walking Dead (love that show!). We have to empty it at least twice a week to keep from keeling over. D and I used to keep it outside on our balcony, but then the flies came. OMG, the flies. So, back to the kitchen it went. I Lysol that area daily for my own peace of mind.

White, Green, and Brown bins. These are your glass recycling receptacles (Pfand). Clear glass in white bins, green glass in green, brown glass in brown. Easy enough. But wait, isn't the brown for compost? Haha...told you it's confusing! To lessen that confusion, these bins are not located at your house. YAY! And boo. You've got to collect glass bottles of these colors (we put them in a large bag in the trunk of our car) and haul them to one of the glass bins around the city. We usually just drop ours off at the one right on base since it's on our way to the commissary. No biggie. But the little collection of glass bottles and jars we get going on our counter top before we take them to the trunk is a bit of an eye sore.

{Glas bins. Please excuse the sticker in the photo. I took this from the car on our way to the commissary. Didn't want to get out of the car at the risk of looking like a crazy person taking photos of recycling bins.}
Fabrics, old clothes, and shoe bins. These aren't actually purple...but in sticking with the color theme, lets just pretend they are. And sometimes, there really isn't a "bin" for them either. Usually, old clothes can be picked up at your curb by various charity organizations. Sometimes they even roll down the street ringing a bell like "come bring your dead"...but not really. Slightly morbid, but that's just what it reminds me of. Or you can donate your less grungy wearables to the Thrift Store on base. That's what we do! Go Captain Planet! Y'all remember that show? Awesome.

Batteries & electronics are to be disposed of separately from everything else. You can usually find a small orange bin at some of the local stores around town. Or in big shopping areas. Thankfully, we haven't had to find one of those yet. 

Gray bins are specifically for your household waste (Restmüll). Basically the stuff that doesn't go in any of the other bins, goes here. Seriously, how is there anything left to go in that bin? It takes us a good 2 weeks to fill that bin up in our kitchen. Normally, we'd just call that one TRASH in America...where EVERYTHING goes. Not the life I lead now. Not in the slightest. Now it's just home to old kitchen objects, cigarette butts and baby diapers (we don't smoke or have a baby, but if we did, they'd go here), and used personal hygiene items.

So where do you dispose of old furniture, bio-hazard like paint cans, and styrofoam? The first two, you can take straight to the Recyclinghof where they have large bins for those items (our landlords have been nice enough to do that for us when we've needed it). Styrofoam...no idea. I've only been given one to-go box that was styrofoam since living here and I just threw it in the gray 'everything else' bin. I know it takes like a bagillion years to breakdown...so maybe we should lynch that restaurant owner for their blatant styrofoam use. No?

Your brain fried yet??? Uh yeah. Thought so.

Now back to my story....

After the initial recycling shock wore off, it was time adapt and get bins for our kitchen. Since there are 4 receptacles outside, that meant we'd also need 4 in our own kitchen. The thought of having that many bins in our tiny kitchen gave me major anxiety. Luckily, IKEA TO THE RESCUE! I love IKEA. I never leave there empty handed. So, a trip to IKEA, for recycling or otherwise, was just fine by me! I swear we spent 2 hours in the bin section trying to decide which ones to get. They had lots of options. LOTS. You'd think it was rocket science (told you we needed that PhD). We finally made a decision, brought them home, placed them in our kitchen, and...I cried. Like a little baby. I stood there and had a mini recycling meltdown. I hated that those things were going to be taking up so much space in my already too tiny kitchen. I hated that I was going to have to wash out every freaking yogurt cup I ate and place it in one of those bins (I eat a lot of yogurt, the thought was terrifying). I hated the idea that we now had a compost...a COMPOST bin in our kitchen. It was going to be full of egg shells and onion peels and leftover chicken salad that D forgot to take to lunch for 2 weeks straight. The smells that were going to come out of my kitchen already haunted me. So, I lost it. Bet you guys can't say that recycling ever made you cry. I can. I can say that.

In my defense, we had just moved out of a hotel room we'd been living in for 41 days into our new home, in a foreign country, mind you, and I hadn't shed a tear yet. Recycling was my straw that broke the camels back. Fortunately, my freak out was short lived and I've adjusted to my new life as a recycling citizen of Deutschland. Snaps for me!

{Here is our kitchen...complete with it's own recycling center. Plastic/metal, compost (see, it's little for a reason), and paper.}
{Here is our Restmüll bin. All the "rest" of our trash ends up here. I have no clue why we got such a big one. There's hardly ever anything in there.} 
Now that almost 4 months have passed since our trashy conversation with our landlord, I'm happy to report that D and I have graduated from recycling high school and are well on our way to our recycling PhD's! We still don't 100% know what the heck we are doing, but our landlord has yet to come and scold us. So, that to me, is a big win for Team Coté! Also, I've come to the realization that this way of living is, in fact, not so crazy...if you really think about it. German's have got the right idea, as bananas as it sounds. As much consumer waste as we produce on a daily basis, it's no wonder our oceans are getting trashier and the our landfills are overflowing. America needs to get with the program. I applaud you crazy, German, recycling machines!! Although I'm not quite sure I'll adopt the German way of recycling in its entirety when we make our way back to the states (mostly because America doesn't recycle some things...yet), but I will keep most parts of it in my recycling repertoire. What will I leave behind? The compost. Definitely the compost. I won't be growing a garden of Eden anytime soon, that's for sure.

Fellow readers and expats...any stories you'd like to add? Other countries that have crazy waste disposal customs? Do any of you know what the heck you do with paper towels??? Paper bin?? Gray bin?? Help a sista out!

Well, that's enough trash talk for today. Congrats Graduates! 


  1. Too funny Casey! I think I've taught the boys the art of recycling -- at least the American way! However, like you, they seem to be a little lazy - can't seem to find our dishwasher! Next time you are home in America, please come to my house and help me organize my kitchen better! Kathy

  2. Great Post!! I am in the works of a Recycling Post as well lol the crazy Recycling Game as we call it here is in full swing on our little island of Okinawa! and it's pretty tiring trying to figure it all out!

  3. Oh my gosh the trash sorting here drives me nuts. I cannot stand getting charged extra for bottles to bring them back because I always forget them so I have a huge pile haha

  4. Great, you graduated from garbage college!

    And no for the Phd: styrofoam normally goes to the yellow bin/bags. But: Styrofoam containers from restaurants should not go there (for legal reasons! the restaurant owner did not pay fees to the "Grüner Punkt" which runs the yellow bins/bags. Yes, the producer of a good that is packed in something has to pay to the yellow bin operator).

    So: You are a natural! This styrofoam had to go to the gray bin!
    Time for confessions: I put every styrofoam in the yellow bag! I am a bit of an outlaw ;-)

    Can you imagine what it meant for this poor German soul to put everything in the same bin in the US? Only having one bin? Unthinkable! Took me weeks to overcome that guilty feeling.

    By the way: (A late) welcome to Germany!

  5. oh, by the way: paper towels go to the gray bin

  6. you really crack me up! we still supposed to recycle here on post, but we don't get issued sorting bins since we live in stairwell apts. so we have a consolidated trash area. they have separate bins for cans, plastics, paper, etc. i'm not good about separating things out, but my husband is good about going through our trash at the dumpster and pulling recyclables out, which I think is gross. i suppose i could get better at sorting for his sake :)

  7. Finally had time to read this! My head hurts from what I just read, though, because I think I'm still in Italy's recycling elementary school. We've only been living here a month, though, so maybe in three more months I'll be where you are now! Once I think I have it figured out—BAM!–something changes and I have no idea if I'm putting the right stuff into the right bin. Wanna come over and decipher it for me?!

  8. Ah this was such a helpful refresher. I'm good about the obvious papers and plastics, but still need work. I'm definitely still in the elementary school of recycling. :)

  9. Great post i must say and thanks for the information. Education is definitely a sticky subject. However, is still among the leading topics of our time. I appreciate your post and look forward to more. training for a german shepherd


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