Tackling German Recycling

Those of you who know me well know that I'm a little lazy when it comes to recycling.  It's not that I don't care about the planet, it's just that I'm lazy and easily distracted and back in the States that meant that I was pretty good about recycling glass and that's about it.  I'd recycle paper if I had a huge chunk at once but I didn't have multiple trash cans for various kinds of refuse and certainly didn't sort through my trash to dispose of it properly.

Well, good ol' German thoroughness has cured of me this.  I realized I'd fallen hard for the system here as I caught myself literally going through every trash bin in the house to separate out paper and plastic packaging.  Not because I think the German system is particularly inspiring or easy - it's actually a frustrating pain in the ass - it's just that I fear of reprisals from angry German neighbors is a great motivator.

According to various military documents, the biggest complaint Germans have about their American neighbors here is improper disposal of trash.  I already feel like a bumbling idiot most of the time here, and I really have a fear of pissing my neighbors off from the get go, so since we moved in I have been trying to recycle properly.

Problem is, this takes a degree of information that generally can only be found in German on German websites if you can even figure out how to search.  Thank god for the Internet and Google Translate, but it's still been a few months to figure out the whole system.  Let me see if I can break it down for you:

Glass bottles must be taken to a neighborhood recycling bin, which are relatively few and far between.  Mine is 4 blocks away.  There, you separate green, brown, and white glass into the bins.  You can't do this after 10pm or on Sunday, because it's too noisy.

Oh!  And if your glass bottle is the kind you paid a pfand (deposit) on, you instead take it to the store where you can either put it in a machine or have it tallied up by a person, and are given about 5 cents a bottle.  This is generally for beer bottles, but also for wine bottles over 0.75 liters.  And sometimes some other kinds of glass bottles.  How do you know which ones?  Sometimes it tells you on the bottle, but sometimes not.  Be careful - there are some bottles that have a pfand that will not be accepted by certain stores, if the store does not carry that brand.  Confused yet?  Oh, it gets better.

Paper and cardboard are put into a bin at your house or apartment, pretty similar to the U.S.  Except milk cartons.  Milk cartons are considered "packaging" and are sorted into the bane of my existence:

DER GELB SACK (aka "the yellow sack")
Gelbsackzeit is the most beautiful time of the month.

Instead of another bin for all plastic, some metal, all foil, and occasionally some paper-composite packaging, the Germans have concocted a system where you put all those items into these special yellow sacks which are picked up...once every three weeks.  Why every three weeks?  Who knows?  But I was pretty excited when I found a website that told me the dates of gelb sack pickup.  Because if you miss your gelb sack deposit, that packaging really starts to add up.  Let's just say that my "pantry" has been more of a trash holding center for the last couple of months because I hadn't figured out how to do the whole gelb sack thing yet.

Where do you get the gelb sacks?  Some people's landlords are nice enough to provide them to you, but not mine.  You can also get them from your garbage collectors, if you catch them (I never do).  A website finally told me I could get them at my local apoteke (pharmacist) of all places.  So today I filled up four gelb sacks and now they are picturesquely piled on top of the mounds of my neighbors' gelb sacks, in ordnung.  Which is cool because that means that this week the only refuse I have to deal with is ... glass (both types) and filling up the paper bins again with cardboard from IKEA purchases.  Which, while being proper trash disposal, probably isn't endearing me to my neighbors either.

After you've caught up with all that, everything else goes in a regular trash bin.  I guess some people compost, but I don't have a bin and frankly, I don't have the time.  Next time someone asks me, "What do you do all day?"  I'm just gonna say, "Oh, I recycle."