German Language Blog

Mülltrennung – How the Germans Separate Their Waste Posted by on Jul 29, 2014 in Culture

It is probably something that is not talked about much – but different in every country.

In Germany, we separate our waste generally in Restmüll (residual waste), Bioabfall (biowaste), Gartenabfall (garden waste), Altpapier (paper waste), Altglas (glass waste), and Grüner Punkt (Green Dot) waste. The Grüner Punkt labels the so-called Leichtstoffverpackungen (LVP) (Lightweight Packaging). This LVP is already enough prepared by the producer for recycling that it does not have to be taken back, but can be disposed of. That is many kinds of plastic and some aluminum, like most packaging you find in products.

This LVP is collected in the Gelbe Sack (Yellow Bag), or in some cities, the Gelbe Tonne (Yellow Bin). This Gelbe Sack is available for free in supermarkets!

Altpapier is gathered in the Papiertonne (Paper bin). This includes anything that is paper.

Restmüll includes everything that cannot be categorized in the other types of waste. These are things such as Babywindeln (baby diapers), Staub (dust), or Asche (ash).

Bioabfall is organic waste, so anything plant-based or animal-based, that can be broken down and eaten by microorganisms and enzymes. You get the point :).


Different waste bins in Germany – from left to right, biowaste, residual waste, a Yellow Bin, and paper waste. (Image „Mülltonnen diverse“ by 3268zauber. Licensed under Creative Commons Attribution-Share Alike 3.0 at Wikimedia Commons.)

That includes all waste you can put in your bins. But there is other waste too, of course.

You can put your Altglas in the Altglascontainer (glass waste container), which are made available by the municipality. Altglas is separated in Weißglas (white glass) and Buntglas (colored glass). Buntglass can be further divided in Braunglas (brown glass) and Grünglas (green glass). The same counts for the Altkleidersammlung (old clothes collection). You can bag your clothes and just put them in there. Even shoes!

Furthermore, there is Sperrmüll (bulky waste). This includes furniture that is too large for the bins or is not suitable for it by its nature. Sperrmüll can be put on your sidewalk, and will be picked up by a truck. However, before the truck comes, many people come with Anhänger (trailers) and Kleinbusse  (minibuses) to pick up what they think is still usable.

Braunglas, Grünglas, Weißglas, and Altkleidersammlung next to each other. (Image „Laer 4462“ by Rüdiger Wölk. Licensed under Creative Commons Attribution-Share Alike 2.5 at Wikimedia Commons.)

Batteries, lamps and other electronic waste can be disposed of in bins made available in some supermarkets and electronics stores.


All of this is strictly managed in the law. Burning your waste is strictly prohibited. Well, of course you can use wood to fire up your Kamin (fireplace), but you may not burn plastic, for example. I observed that with great disbelief in the United States.

How is waste management coordinated in your country or area?


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About the Author: Sten

Hi! I am Sten, both Dutch and German. For many years, I've written for the German and the Dutch blogs with a passion for everything related to language and culture. It's fascinating to reflect on my own culture, and in the process allow our readers to learn more about it! Besides blogging, I am a German-Dutch-English translator, animator and filmmaker.


  1. marcia bernhard:

    We are so wasteful in the US. We could take some lessons from the Germans on how to save the planet.

  2. Constanze:

    I have always loved how there are different bins for different coloured glass. That is the ultimate in efficient recycling. 😉

  3. lucas:

    In NSW, Australia we have 3 different bins.

    Large with yellow lid for recyclable stuff (glass, paper, pet bottles, etc)
    Large with green lid for vegetation.
    Small with red lid for non-recyclable.

    The green bin only goes out every second week.

  4. Laure:

    Same for France. Our recycling system is “okay”, but not as complex as the german one! I’ve been living in Germany for almost a year now, and I find this system really good. You have the feeling to do a little something for the planet 😉

  5. Pia:

    To replicate this system, we must have discipline. We must also bear in mind the benefits we’ll get from waste segregation.

  6. Isaac Sampier:

    Here in Schwerin the system does not work. The “Yellow Sack” (Gelbe Sack) can only be picked up at the “Stadthaus”, And they act like you are a criminal if you ask for it.

    You can forget about getting the Yellow Sack at the supermarket. Nothing is for free there!

    Most of the garbage is burned. The burned waste is used to produce electricity. So in effect we are recycling to produce less electricity.

    Still, the Germans dutifully separate their trash. Even though everyone knows that the system is broken. I hope that things change for the better soon.

  7. K. Duff:

    I live in rural “redneck” Wyoming and we have an amazing recycling program. There are half a dozen sites around town to drop off your recyclables as well as curbside mixed recycling that is then sorted by hand at the facility. If the wild west can do it without complaint, there is no reason the rest of the country cannot figure it out. Too many lazy, unaccountable people only interested in what is easiest or most financially lucrative.