A Step By Step Guide to Recycling Your Bottles in Germany

When you are a solo expat trying to navigate life in Germany by yourself even the simplest tasks seem overwhelming and difficult especially when they are nothing like what you do ‘back home’.  Recycling bottles was one of these scary tasks for me when I first moved here. Therefore, I thought I would write a step-by-step guide for all you new solo expats to take the fear out of recycling your bottles for the first time.

1.  When you are about to head out to the supermarket to do your weekly shopping gather up all the empty plastic and glass bottles and soft drink cans you have brought throughout the week and kept waiting to recycle them.   It doesn’t matter where in Germany you have brought your bottle or can, they can all be recycled at your local supermarket.

2.  Look for the odd looking machine below.  You will most likely find it near the entrance to the supermarket, although some places have them inside the actual supermarket.

3.  Put your bottles and cans into the round hole at the top bottom first.  For a faster bottle recycling experience, make sure the barcode is facing upwards.

4.  Keep putting in all your bottles one after the other until your bag is empty and then press the green button next to the other circular hole.  This will print your receipt.

5. Keep your receipt!  The amount at the bottom is the cash you get back from recycling your bottles.  This is based on the Pfand (deposit) you paid when you brought your bottle.  Most 500mL bottles of soft drink carry a 15c deposit, whilst the 1.5l ones carry a 25c deposit.

6.  When going through the checkout when purchasing your groceries hand this receipt to the cashier and you will get the amount of the receipt deducted from your bill.  If you don’t have anything to buy, you can just hand your receipt to the cashier and get the money back.

Recycling bottles in Germany is quite a unique process, but hopefully the above guide will take all the fear and uncertainty out of your first recycling experience and you’ll be able to to do it like you have been recycling bottles this way for years.

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23 Ways Germany Is Different to Australia

Image Credit: Promex

As an Australian living in Germany, I’ve discovered in my time here just how different my adopted homeland is from my native homeland – and not in the ways you might expect.

Here are just 23 of them:

1. The language.  Yes, I know this is pretty obvious, but even when you get your head around the German language, how you say things and even to whom, are still very different.  Never ask someone you don’t know how are they as in Germany this question will offend them whereas in Australia, it is just being polite.

2. Cash is King.  In Germany, don’t try using your credit card to pay for your meal at a restaurant or for your groceries as most times they don’t accept them.  You will need cash or an EC card (debit card).

3. You can pay separately.  Most Australians know the pure ‘joy’ of a dinner out with a large number of friends and how when you get the bill you have to calculate how much everyone owes and then try to collect all the money.  Here in Germany, they let you pay separately without bitching and moaning about how much extra work it is to let you do so.

4. Don’t leave a tip on the table.  In Australia, we just leave the tip for the waitress/waiter on the table, but here in Germany that is considered very rude.  In Germany, you include your tip when you pay.  So if your meal costs €8.80, you can give the waitress €10 and tell her ‘Stimmt so’ which basically means keep the change.

5. The prices.  The cost of living in Germany is way cheaper than in Australia. Groceries, restaurant meals, cinema prices – everything is cheaper.  A bottle of Coke costs roughly $4 (€3) in Australia where it is €1.50 in Germany and that includes the deposit on the bottle.

6. Recycling. Recycling is an art form in Germany. There is none of this placing all recyclables in a single yellow-lidded wheelie bin here. Depending on where you live, recycling will be one of the hardest things you will ever attempt to do – and you will get it wrong. Here in Hamburg, my recycling consists of taking a walk down the street and dividing my recycling into paper, plastics, white glass, green glass and brown glass.  Also, any bottles of soda or beer that I buy are recycled separately at the supermarket where I receive the deposit I paid on the bottle back in the form of a receipt that gives me that amount off on the cost of my groceries.

7. You will be yelled at.  Don’t take it personally. Germans, for the most part, believe it is their right to tell you exactly what you are doing wrong, usually the recycling, and will explain in harsh tones how to do it correctly.

8. Jaywalking is verboten! In Australia, jaywalking is a national past time.  No one cares if you cross when the lights are red, but here in Germany, jaywalking is a scandalous act and you will be told in no uncertain terms to think of the children.

9. Sex shops have window displays.  In Australia, sex shops are usually on the first floor with a tiny sign pointing up a narrow staircase.  We like to pretend that they don’t really exist.  Here in Germany, they have window displays containing dildos, condoms and a range of racy lingerie.  Apparently, when it comes to sex shops no one thinks of the ‘damaging’ effect this might have on the children.

10. Don’t walk in the bike lane. Here in Germany bike lanes, for the most part, are on the footpath and are indicated by red brick.  Whatever you do, do not walk in the bike lane.  Cyclists will have no qualms about running you over.

11.  The most powerful sound in Germany is the bike bell.  Related to the above point, people move faster than they have ever moved in their life when they hear a bike bell and they do this without first looking for the bike.  If you hear a bike bell, move, then look.

12. What you think of as German is not actually German.  What is the first thing you think of when you think of Germany? I bet it involves lederhosen and big steins of beer.  However, these images are only from a small section of Germany- Bavaria and the rest of the country likes to pretend for the most part that Bavaria isn’t part of the Germany, the same way Australians like to think of Tasmania as separate (they even have the same jokes about Bavaria that we have about Tasmania).

13. Beer.  I know we like to think that Australians are champion beer drinkers but we have nothing on the Germans, nothing. Don’t even try to match a German drink for drink.  Just don’t do it.

14. Legal drinking age.  In Australia, it is 18 for all forms of alcohol.  In Germany, it is 16 for beer and 18 for hard liquor.  Therefore, it is no big thing to see teenagers buying large crates of beer at the supermarket.

15. The weather.  Unlike most parts of Australia, they actually have all four seasons in Germany and they really do have a huge effect on your mood.  There is nothing like the pure joy of seeing the first signs of spring after enduring a German winter.

16. Christmas makes sense.  I’m sorry, but the way we celebrate Christmas in Australia is just batshit insane. The fake snow and songs about how cold it is when it is 40C and you are dying of heat exhaustion is pure madness, as is the huge roast Christmas dinner that your grandmother bakes.  However, here in Germany, the roast dinners, Christmas carols and all the Christmas lights make sense.  It is usually snowing, freezing cold and dark. You need all the Christmas cheer you can get just to make it through the season.

17. The food.  Nothing beats German food.  It is hearty and there is usually plenty of it.  Your waistline will expand.  Just accept it.

18. The BBQ.  Now the BBQ is an Australian institution.  There is nothing more Aussie than a BBQ.  However, the Germans have something similar – the grill and the love that Germans have for grilling can almost rival the love an Australian has for BBQing. They even have a season called grill season, I kid you not, where every German will venture out to the park and grill.

19. Football (Soccer).  In Germany, they have no love for rugby league nor AFL.  Here football (soccer) is king. To be able to even attempt to fit into German society you have to know something about football and have a favourite team. Football is played for 9 months a year so if you want to talk to people at the pub then you have to at least have an option about Dortmund’s chances this year.

20. Punctuality. Unlike Australia, when being on time is being 20 minutes late, Germans are punctual and will regard any lateness as a sign of your moral failing.

21.  Public Transport.  It works here, it is on time and it is cheap. That is all you need to know.  Embrace it.

22.  The wildlife.  In Germany, the wildlife does not try to kill you.  You do not have to fear for your life if you stray off the path in the woods. In fact, it is kinda unnerving that going for a walk in the forest (bush) does not entail some kind of risk to your life.  Where is the fun in that?

23. Location. Location. Location.  Germany really is smack bang in the middle of Europe. It takes less time to fly from Hamburg to London then it does to drive from Sydney to Newcastle. From Germany, you can easily travel to anywhere in Europe.  Distance is almost irrelevant here.  Make the most of it.

Written as part of the Scintilla Project.
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Recycling – The German Way

Recycling in Germany is an exact science.  It is not like Australia where you have a bin for your rubbish plus a bin for your recycling and you just throw all of your recycling together in one bin. No, here in Germany, recycling must be carefully divided into paper and cardboard, plastics, white glass, brown glass, green glass and bottles that have a pfand (deposit).

Bottles that have a pfand like soft drink and alcohol get taken to the supermarket and returned using the coolest system ever and you get a little receipt that you can use at the supermarket to get a discount on your purchases.

All other recycling get taken to your local recycling station, which for me is located 3 minutes down the street at the local church St Stephanus and sorted into bins.

Recycling Bins

Therefore once a week, usually on a Sunday, I take my plastic container full of my recycling and place it in the correct bins.

There is the bin for paper and cardboard where you must rip your cardboard up to fit it into the slot.  This was fun with all my Ikea boxes.

Then your plastics like milk cartons etc.

Then your glass bottles and heaven help you if you put a brown bottle in the white bottle bin.

Finally there is the bin where all your other rubbish goes, which thankfully is out the front of each apartment building.

which is clearly labelled so you know exactly what the bin is for.

I never thought taking the rubbish out would be such a complicated task. However, I’m glad to see recycling taken so seriously and even though at times it’s annoying, I’m happy to do my small part for the planet.

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Bottle Recycling in Deutschland

The bottle recycling maching at my local supermarket. Taken on my mobile phone whilst I was trying to look like I wasn't taking a photo, so it's a little blurry.

Back in Australia, recycling your PET bottles goes something like this – put the empty bottle in your recycling bin.  Simple.

In Germany things are a little more complicated but ultimately cooler.  In Germany you pay a pfand (deposit) of about 15 cents for a 500mL bottle or 25 cents for a 1.5 litre bottle.  However, you get your pfand back when you deposit your empty bottle in a bottle recycling machine that are found in every single supermarket.

Here’s the drill.  Collect all your empty PET bottles in a plastic bag.  Take said bottle filled plastic bag with you to the supermarket.  Insert each bottle into the machine making sure the barcode is facing up (that instruction was fun to translate the 1st time I attempted bottle recycling).  Watch the machine light up and the insides spin around as it recycles your bottle.  After you have inserted all your bottles in the machine print out your receipt.  Go do your shopping.  At the checkout give the cashier your bottle recycling receipt, this amount is taken off your shopping bill.

How cool is that?  Much more fun that simply placing your bottle in the recycling bin.  However, it does mean that every Friday I carry home from work a plastic bag containing my empty Coke bottles from the week.  It does make me look rather odd and all for getting only about a euro off my shopping bill.  Still, I enjoy, perhaps a little too much, the act of recycling my bottles here.

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