Recycling in Germany

The following article is a guest post from a fellow blogger.  No compensation was received. 

It’s almost become a joke in our house that when we ask our German friends why things are a certain way the answer is usually, “because it’s better for the environment.” Coming from the U.S. and being aware of environmental friendliness, we thought we would be somewhat prepared when we moved to Germany a little over three years ago. We weren’t. Here’s a small sampling of things we do (or have experienced) in Germany, that are better for the environment and almost second nature to us now.

Saving the Environment through Appliances

Washing Machines and Dryers

Washing machines are just smaller in Germany. In the US washing machines wash a lot of clothes in one load. I don’t even remember how much I could wash in the US. The washing machine in our apartment is very low capacity. I think there are options here that are slightly larger, but not by much. To give an example, I’ve had to switch to towels that aren’t so thick and fluffy. When I used thick and fluffy towels, I could only wash two at a time. Not only are they smaller machines, but more energy and water  efficient. Dryers, on the other hand, are not common. Many people hang dry their clothes (though many people have told me that once they started having kids they would by a dryer).  A common question from visiting family: how do people get by when they can’t wash their clothes frequently? Well, by doing things the environmentally friendly way, of course! We wear our clothes more than once or twice unless really dirty.

Refrigerators and Freezers

Most rentals in Germany don’t come with kitchen cabinets, appliances, or even a sink. We were lucky to find one that did have those things but we were surprised to see how small our refrigerator/freezer were. The best example I could give is that it was the size of a dorm room fridge. You know what I’m talking about? The ones with the freezer within the refrigerator, not a separate compartment? We immediately upgraded to a slightly larger option (same sized fridge, but a small separate freezer). Again, our families are shocked by our still very small appliance (comparatively), but it works. Most people live within walking distance to a farmer’s market or grocery store. We make daily trips getting the freshest, usually local and organic, products. Most things don’t need to be refrigerated and if they do, they come in smaller packaging, reducing the chance of waste.

Air Conditioning and Heating

Central air isn’t common. Most people don’t use air conditioning or even fans. Some office buildings, shopping centers, hotels, and public transportation will have limited a/c, but it’s rare. During the winter heating is used, but it is also kept at a minimum. Instead, people just bundle up even indoors. Coming from Florida, people were often shocked to hear that I felt it was hotter here than in Florida. When it gets warm in Germany, there’s no place to escape the heat. However, after three years of living here I’ve realized it’s really not that bad. I’ve learned how to stay cool within the limitations set on me and I can’t complain.

Saving the Environment through Recycling

To limit the amount of waste, trash cans are smaller and pick-up time is less frequent. As an example, when I lived in the US the trash-cans that we kept at the curb on garbage day are two to three times larger than trash cans here. On top of that, in the US our trash was picked up once or twice a week. Here, it’s often once or twice a month! I have to admit, I struggle with this. However, when I think about it I realize that people here just have less trash.

One of the reasons there is less trash is because there is more recycling. Most cans, plastic bottles, and glasses can be returned to the grocery store for a refund. Throughout town there are several places to drop off non-refundable glass. Paper and non-refundable plastic items are picked up when regular trash is picked-up. Most public trash bins have three containers: paper, plastic, and trash. Grocery and drug stores have places at the front of the store for people to discard excess packaging after making their purchases. So if I buy a tube of toothpaste that comes in a box, I get rid of the box before I leave the store. The only waste that makes it to the trash cans are the actual waste.

This symbol is found on most cans or plastic bottles in Germany. At the front of grocery stores you will find machines that will read the symbol, prepare the bottle for recycling, calculate the refund, and give you a receipt for the total. Then just bring the receipt to the cash register to have that amount credited to your purchase or refunded in cash.

This symbol is found on most cans or plastic bottles in Germany. At the front of grocery stores you will find machines that will read the symbol, prepare the bottle for recycling, calculate the refund, and give you a receipt for the total. Then just bring the receipt to the cash register to have that amount credited to your purchase or refunded in cash.

Saving the Environment through Transportation

The most convenient part of living in Germany is the public transportation. It is possible to get almost anywhere with a combination of trains, subways, trams, and buses. Prices are kept low to encourage people to use public transport. Group discounts make long distance trains competitively priced compared to driving. As an example, for the low price if 38 EUR 5 people can use most public transportation options within one German state.

Cars in Germany have stickers indicating their environmental friendliness rating. Green is the best, red the worst. Many cities across Germany limit cars to those with only green or green or yellow stickers.

Saving the environment in Germany is just a part of the culture. The items listed above are just a small sampling of the steps this country has taken to preserve the environment. It takes little effort on mosts people’s part because of the systems in place to encourage it and make it easy to help their environment. What is the recycling like where you live?

Ann Belle is an American expat living in Germany with her husband and two kids. She blogs about traveling with kids and offers tips and tools to help children and families embrace travel at her blog, Travel Turtle. Ann is happy to connect with you via Facebook or twitter.

Related Posts Plugin for WordPress, Blogger...


  1. Great post! I know how much our lives have changed too by the serious increase in recycling regulations here in the Netherlands. I’m glad- and hope we continue this trend- even after we come back to the US. It’s amazing how much just one family can accomplish.

  2. Missy Homemaker says:

    Our family has been learning to wear our clothes more than once-my husband and I often wear the same pair of jeans or shorts all week or until they become dirty. My youngest sons still think they need to change every day. I’m hoping now that we’re homeschooling, they’ll get more into the spirit (I never asked them to wear things twice in a row, but to save them for later in the week).

    I love your posts and looking forward to more.

  3. Great post, I just learned a little bit more about Germany than I did before. Seems like they’re on their way to creating a much better environment. Kudos to Germany. 🙂

  4. says:

    Thanks for letting me guest post, Allie! It was a lot of fun. Have a great trip.

  5. How very environmental! A few similarities with us here in Croatia, BUT we have such a long way to go. We could take a few examples from you guys. GREAT POST!

Speak Your Mind