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Bin there, done with that: recycling in Germany

Travel anywhere in Germany by train and you’ll see an array of coloured bins on the platform, evidence that Germany takes recycling seriously. The recycling industry turns over around €50 million annually and Germans, who have a long tradition of social consciousness, recycle more of their rubbish than most other European nations. Using the Grüne Punkt (Green Dot) icon that indicates material can be recycled, they now recycle up to seventy percent of some materials, including 41 percent of plastics. In Bavaria, only one percent of rubbish goes to landfill. Visitors are expected to do their bit – novices placing items in the wrong container may be quietly reprimanded.

Bins – of which there are up to five – are colour-coded. One, usually green or blue, is for paper (Papier) and cardboard, including waxed cartons; boxes should be flattened and emptied of any plastic wrappers. Plastic goes into the yellow bin, along with milk cartons, cans, polystyrene and aluminium (marked with the Green Dot icon of two interlocking arrows). Straightforward enough, so long as you don‘t stuff different materials inside each other; this stuff gets sorted by hand, so a plastic cup hidden inside a tin is strictly verboten. There’s no need to rinse items but most Germans empty cans and plastics. Glass is usually collected in hostels to be taken to bottle banks, commonly in supermarket car parks. However, most bottles – glass and plastic – usually have a deposit (Pfand) on them of around €0.30–0.50 per item to be cashed at specified re-collection centres, most conveniently supermarkets. It’s standard practice to return items in bulk rather than singly. Biodegradables – including coffee grounds and teabags – go in another bin, usually brown, after which there‘s hardly anything left over. What is goes in the one bin that takes genuine Müll (rubbish) – grey or black and usually empty.

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