The German trash system…

I wrote this two weeks after I posted about our first two months in Germany.  I was feeling a little flummoxed about the way things are done in Deutschland.  I’m not sure I ever did quite get the hang of the trash system.  ETA: In 2020, now I know…

Five trashy things in Germany I haven’t yet figured out…

Nov 30, 2007 (Updated Dec 3, 2007)

The Bottom Line Someday, before we go back to the States, I hope I will have mastered the rubbish system here in Germany.

My husband Bill and I have now been living in Germany for about ten weeks. During that time, our bodies have become accustomed to the new time zone. Our eyes have become used to the new landscape, which actually looks a lot like the beautiful Shenandoah Valley in Virginia, where my family is from. Our intestines have gotten acclimated to the new water and food. I know this is TMI, but I, for one, have only suffered from a truly nasty case of traveller’s diarrhea once since our arrival. Wish I could say that about my time in Armenia about ten years ago.

Anyway, I think Bill and I have gotten used to a lot of things in Germany. Unfortunately, there are still a few things we haven’t yet gotten the hang of…

5. Our compost heap- It seems that many of our German neighbors are fond of composting their natural waste. It makes sense and of course, makes for some great topsoil for the spring. We have a compost heap in our back yard. I sort of get the concept of it. It looks like a tall wooden crate/box divided into two parts and surrounded by chicken wire. Bill says we’re supposed to put natural waste like leaves, rotten fruits and vegetables, coffee grounds, grass clippings, and animal excrement on the heap. Then, on a regular basis, we’re supposed to rotate the heap so that the stuff turns into nice soil. Well, suffice it to say, our heap is a mess. It’s not entirely our fault. It was a mess when we moved in. We thought we’d be living in an apartment when we moved here, so we didn’t bring our garden tools and haven’t gotten around to buying new ones yet. Consequently, the compost heap is close to overflowing and I’m really missing our good old fashioned trash compactor.

4. The concept of residual waste- Here in Germany, trash must be separated into several different categories. That’s different than how it is in the United States, where we have big bins to put all of our trash and a separate container for all recyclables. Our landlord was kind enough to tell Bill where he needed to go to get our container for so-called “residual waste” after he paid about ten euro for a sticker from the local government. Bill came back with a short, squatty little plastic container that looks like it can handle about twelve liters of “residual waste”. He put the government sticker on the little trash can said the container was given to us based on the needs of our landlord’s family over the years. At first, I was pretty perplexed, but then I realized the little can was only for “residual waste”, and not for paper, natural garbage, plastic, metal, or glass. Apparently there aren’t too many things that really qualify as “residual waste” and that’s why the can is so small. The only problem is, I haven’t yet figured out exactly what residual waste is if it’s not any of the aforementioned things.

3. The trash schedule- Back home, our trash was picked up on Mondays and Thursdays. The truck picked up bulk items and recyclables as well as regular trash on Mondays, while Thursdays were just for regular trash. Frankly, we didn’t really need to have our trash picked up so often. Here in our little German town, however, different kinds of trash are picked up on different days. One day, only paper can be collected. Another day, it’s residual waste. Another day, it’s plastic and metal. And God help you if you screw up and put the wrong type of trash out on the wrong day. That’s a big no no!

2. Bulk items and packaging our trash- Bill and I moved into our house about a month ago and our stuff was packed in lots and lots of cardboard boxes. It took about a week to unpack everything. Thank God we didn’t bring all of our stuff. After we were done, we were left with plenty of flattened boxes. Our landlord told us that we could order bulk items to be picked up. Bill noticed that people would leave their cardboard boxes out when it was time for paper to be picked up, but never a big pile like what we have. And I wonder, if I put out my paper, is it okay to put it in a plastic sack? Or will I get yelled at in German for that?

1. The Gelbe Sack- For some reason, when it’s time to pack up our plastic and metal trash, it’s all supposed to go in a special yellow plastic sack called the Gelbe Sack. The Gelbe Sack looks like a thin yellow Hefty bag. We load all of qualifying trash into the bag and set it out for the trash collectors on the appointed date set on a special calendar. I wonder why plastic and metal gets a special sack, but other types of trash don’t. It seems like it would make life easier for us idiots who need special help to figure out the trash situation here in Germany. I also wonder what I’m supposed to do with trash that qualifies as paper and plastic. What about those cartons that are mostly made of paper but have a plastic spout? Or worse, what if they’re made of paper and foil and have a plastic spout? Which trash container should something like that go in? Or is that residual waste?

After a few trial and error missions, we did finally figure out what to do with our glass and plastic bottles. Racks of bottles can be taken to local stores, where they get fed into a machine that spits out a receipt. The receipt can be used against the deposit for a new rack of bottles of beer, soda, water, or what have you. It’s actually pretty cool. Turning in our bottles reminds me of dumping out spare change at the CoinStar. The machine senses how many bottles there are, what they’re made of, and gives you a chit accordingly. For loose bottles and containers, there’s a neighborhood place where glass bottles can be dropped off. The drop off bin requires people to separate the glass by color. But since dropping off glass bottles can be noisy, it’s not supposed to be done during German quiet hours or on Sundays. We haven’t yet found the drop off in our neighborhood, but when we do, I hope it’s at an appropriate time of day!

Bill and I talked to our landlord about our confusion last week. He took us out to dinner at a charming restaurant in Tubingen, which is the city closest to where we live. The landlord chuckled and said that Germans separate all of their garbage, but no one knows if it actually gets recycled or someone just burns it. I thought that was a pretty funny comment.

As for now, I told Bill that we need to come up with some sort of system. We’ve got a bunch of different trash bags in our house and two big trash cans. Stuff gets all intermingled and when it’s time to take out the trash, it’s a big mess. We need one of those compartmentalized bins that will make it easier to separate everything. As it is right this moment, I’m up to @ss in different kinds of rubbish and it’s making me feel like garbage!

Another view from our yard…  I really miss Germany!

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