Reduce, Reuse & Recycle: Our recycling guide

Vanessa Koch — — 6 minutes


Reduce, Reuse & Recycle: Unser Recycling Guide
How do you sort rubbish properly? Photo: Julia M. Cameron by Pexels)

The best rubbish is never created in the first place. That's for sure. But what happens when it does? How do you sort rubbish properly? What about the plastic cup with yoghurt residue, the empty cup of hummus and the oily pizza box? Do you separate metal lids from jam jars and do you have to wash them before disposing of them? We asked ourselves these questions together with Julia from PLAN3T, and Marie and Hannah from OCLEAN. You can read our answers and our recycling guide here:

To get you started, here are a few facts and figures on recycling:

  • No country consumes more packaging waste than Germany.
  • Since 1950, only 9% of all existing plastic in the world has been recycled. What about the rest? Some has been burned and most is still lying around everywhere. In landfills, in waterways, you name it.
  • In Germany, 5.2 million tonnes of plastic packaging waste were generated in 2017.
  • Of this, 60% was energetically utilised, i.e. incinerated. Since the heat is used further, this is referred to as "recycling as energy or thermal recovery".
  • 38% of the 5.2 million tonnes were recycled.
  • Of the 38%, just over 35% were sold abroad. What happens to it is not really known. That's 14% of all plastic waste.
  • Only 15.6% was ultimately processed for the manufacture of plastic products. Of this, only 7.2% is of the same quality as virgin plastic that can be reprocessed into new products.
  • Recycled plastic accounts for 2.8% of the plastic produced in Germany.
  • A final piece of good news: there are raw materials that are already well recycled, such as paper, glass and metal. Here, the rate is partly over 90%.

So we are still far away from a circular economy. A 100% recycling of all plastics is currently not even possible. Why?

  • More and more types of materials on the market: More packaging materials are being developed every year, making it difficult for the recycling industry to keep up with its sorting machines in order to separate and recycle everything.
  • Raw materials are cheaper than recycling materials: The recycling industry has developed only slowly in recent decades and is not efficient. For the packaging industry, new raw materials are cheaper than recycled materials.
  • Bad packaging design:Waste is a flaw in product design. We live in a flood of products. Supermarket shelves are crowded and competition is fierce. Brands therefore need to stand out: Colourful and elaborate packaging is important to draw attention to the product and encourage people to buy it.
  • Sorting waste in Germany is a hollow debt, not a debt to bring in: The German recycling model varies from state to state and from city cleaning service to city cleaning service. There is simply a lack of clear education of the population on how what belongs where in the rubbish. Someone from Stuttgart, for example, has to separate waste differently than someone in Hamburg.

A rethink on many levels

The majority of waste separation and disposal is relatively easy. Once you have got to grips with the specifics a little bit, you don't forget it so quickly and so, little by little, you get a feel for the right way to deal with waste. It is important to understand that everyone bears responsibility when buying a product and that waste can only be recycled properly if it is also disposed of correctly or perhaps avoided altogether.

You could, for example, look at the products during or after shopping and ask:

  1. What kind of packaging is this?

  2. Can the materials be reused and easily separated for recycling?

  3. Can the packaging perhaps be avoided by buying a product from another brand or can I perhaps also do without this product?

Now let's get down to brass tacks: Where does what rubbish belong?

With all the different types of plastic and mixing ratios, it is not easy to dispose of everything properly. Nevertheless, we can all do our bit to ensure that resources do not become waste directly, but are returned to the cycle as important recyclables.

Photo: Anna Shvets by Pexels

Yellow bag or recycling bin

Only plastic, aluminium and tin packaging goes in here: Films, plastic packaging, tubes, beverage cartons and empty food cans. If possible, this packaging waste should be disposed of separately according to recyclable materials. Examples are: Yoghurt cups, coffee-to-go lids, chip bags, aluminium cans and tetra packs. BIf you have a yoghurt cup, it is important to dispose of the cardboard sleeve accordingly and to put the aluminium cup and the yoghurt separately in the yellow bag/ recyclables bin.

⚠️ Depending on the region, you can dispose of much more here. In Hamburg, you can also dispose of everyday items such as pots, pans (uncoated), metal tools, plastic flower pots, plastic buckets and children's toys in the yellow bag.

Photo: Shvets Production by Pexels.

Paper waste

As the name suggests, this is about paper and cardboard. Examples of corresponding products are: Letters (Attention: Remove clear film viewing window beforehand), toilet paper rolls, newspapers, blue cash register receipts and cartons as well as egg cartons.

⚠️ What many people don't know! Oily pizza boxes belong in the residual waste, not in the paper bin, as they cannot be recycled again due to the oil stains.

Photo: Maria Naichenko by Pexels.

Biotic bin

Food scraps from the kitchen and vegetable waste from the garden belong in here. How about a worm bin as an alternative for those who have no organic waste bin and no compost heap?

⚠️ What definitely does not belong here! Compostable plastic and bioplastics, these take too long to decompose or don't decompose at all.

Photo: Matthis Volquardsen by Pexels.

Residual waste

All waste that does not belong to another waste category belongs in the residual waste: All things that are not recyclable or cannot be separated properly end up here. Everything in the residual waste is incinerated. Used masks belong in here. Also used handkerchiefs, baking and bread paper, cigarettes, coffee-to-go cups & porcelain.