Little daily things can be the hardest to figure out: you got your shopping done, your family fed, and even managed to shower. But now what do you do with all the trash you’ve generated? Well, that’s a little complicated but, like many things in Germany, there is a system and there are rules to guide you. And if you make a mistake there’s a good chance someone will tell you, either directly or in a very passive aggressive way. Trash and noise are the two biggest sources of neighbor conflict!
Every city varies in their trash policies – we’re just talking about the city of Munich here. I’ll go through the main four things you’re expected to do with your trash: throw it away at home, take it back to the store, put it in the your neighborhood bins or drive it to the dump. It might be hard to believe, but this iss actually a little simpler than in some other cities that require further sorting! The bottom line is that you’re expected to recycle as much as possible and you’ll have to dispose of your trash and recycling in different places.
Things you throw away at home
Munich has a 3 bin system. For those living in apartments or city-centre houses, you’ll likely share the bins with your neighbors. This is how it works:
- Bio (brown bin for compost)
- Kitchen scraps
- Household quantities of grass/garden cuttings
- Egg shells and coffee grounds
- Compostable paper towels
- Dead plants and flowers
- Should be put in without any bag, or in compostable paper sacks less than 7L
- Papier (blue bin for paper and household boxes)
- Only for clean paper and cardboard (no dirty or coated paper)
- Boxes should be flattened
- Not for moving boxes
- Restmüll (grey bin for Garbage)
- What’s leftover after you’ve disposed of the compost, clean paper, packaging, and recycling elsewhere. It’s meant to be a small amount
Things you take back to the store
- Bottles that have a deposit (Pfand) – all stores will take back bottles you purchased there. Put them in the bottle deposit machines and you’ll receive a receipt to take the cashier. Some stores such as Kaufland, Simmel, and Galleria Kaufhof will take most German-produced bottles. Others only take the ones they sell.
- Household batteries (Akkus) – Rossman, DM, Müller and home improvement stores have bins for these.
- Anything exchangeable or refillable (Sodastream cartridges, for example).
Things you take to neighborhood recycling bins (Wertstoffinsel
- Glass bottles/containers (Glas) – They should be sorted by color. White/clear goes in Weißglas bin, brown in Braunglas, green in Grünglas. Blue glass and any other colors go in Grünglas.
- Plastic, styrofoam, and composite containers (e.g., Tetrapak) – all go in the Kunststoff bin
- Metal cans (Dosen) – all go in the Dosen/Alu bin
- Old clothes and shoes (Altkleider) – for donations of usable clothing and shoes. There are many others places to donate throughout the city, but there is usually a bin provided by the city trash services.
Things you take to the dump (Wertstoffhöfe)
- Cardboard boxes (Karton) e.g. moving boxes
- Anything too large to fit through the opening of the recycling bins (Sperrmüll)
- Broken electronics
- Broken furniture
- Hazardous materials
- Household quantities of construction materials
- Anything not allowed in the household or recycling trash
They will not accept bottles here. Those have to go to the stores or recycling bins. You will have to sort your trash into specific dumpsters. The staff there can help you figure out where to go. All the dumpsters have a name and a number, so if your German is limited, you can usually gesture at your items in question and ask “Welche Nummer?” Not the best German, but it works! Find your nearest Wertstoffhof and hours here.
Help, you didn’t mention…!
Even among Germans, there always are questions about specific items. The city sanitation department has made this easy for you, with an online Trash Dictionary (Abfalllexicon). It’s German-only, but I’ve found it works pretty well when you stick the link into Google Translate.
For example, my husband and I always debate about pizza boxes. He says they go in Papier because they’re cardboard. I say they go in Restmüll because food and grease touched them. We had to look it up…and they go in Restmüll with the rest of the trash!
It’s a LOT of information to take in at once, but you’ll get a routine going and probably some good bins for sorting and then it’s pretty easy. Taking the bottles back is a great job for kids and a way to earn a little pocket money. The good news is that AWM, the city sanitation department, is very good about having all their information available and up-to-date. Happy sorting!
Editor’s note – Did you like this article? Interested in other how-to’s useful for someone living in Munich? Check out other entries in our how to #minga series, such as how to survive Munich supermarkets or how to make German friends.
Anne Frazier Ahrens came to Munich as a single gal from Texas with a successful career in finance. A decade later, she’s still here… now a married, full-time mom to a daughter with Down Syndrome and a very full social calendar. Since trading investor meetings for coffee dates, she’s enjoying having more time to explore all that Munich has to offer – and continues her quest to visit all of Munich’s beer gardens.
Photo credit: Loralee Pioszak is the owner of Loralee Photography, since 2014. She enjoys photographing children and families, traveling the world and eating chocolate.