Reducing your trash while living in Germany

by Susan Melnyk

When you get stationed in Germany, someone is sure to mention the garbage situation.  

Germany has one of the most progressive and environmentally friendly trash and recycling programs in the world and I can guarantee that once you get the hang of it, you’ll appreciate it!  Understanding the system, however, can take a bit of time and the rules are relatively strict.

Today, we’ll give you a few tips and tricks for reducing the amount of trash you need to throw out.  Tomorrow, we’ll outline what trash goes in what bin.

Reduce the amount of trash you’ll have to throw out

Bring your own reusable canvas bags whenever you go shopping.

You’ll be surprised how much you can reduce your plastics trash with this simple move. Buying some of these canvas bags and keeping a few in your car as well as in your purse (some fold up quite small) will keep you from forgetting them when you head to the store spontaneously.  You can buy these bags quite cheaply in most of the major grocery stores and throughout stores in Germany. If you do find yourself in a bagless situtation after all, make sure to reuse the plastic or paper bags you bought, as garbage bags, for example.

Buy vegetables and fruit at the local markets

You’ll find that the produce selection at local markets are fantastic and shopping there is part of the experience of living in Germany.  Bring your bags to the market and you’ll be surprised by how much packaging you do without when shopping for fresh produce.

Keep to the outside perimeter of the grocery store

To keep both your family and environment healthy, try to spend the least time of your stay in the inner aisles of the grocery store.  The best way to eat healthy and reduce your packaging waste is to shop the outside perimeter of your local store or the commissary.  This is where the fresh fruit, vegetables, meat, seafood, and dairy products can be found.

Make choices based on packaging

If you have a choice between two products, consider their packaging.  Buy the one you can more easily recycle or even reuse.  Glass jars are great for washing out and reusing for dried goods or leftovers before you have finished them. Buying laundry detergent in the flexible plastic bags means less to throw out in comparison to those hard plastic containers they often come in.

Buy what you’ll eat in a week

An enormous amount of purchased food goes to waste due to buying too much or not planning your weekly meals.  Try to buy only what you’ll eat in a week.  German refrigerators are smaller in size because the locals shop for fresh food more often, usually only buying what they will use in the next few days. Although you can get an American-sized fridge while you are living in Germany, it’s a great place to start buying in smaller amounts and only shop when you have a planned recipe or run out of something.

Get a compost bin for your kitchen

You can easily buy these little metal or plastic bins at Globus or other stores across Germany.  They fit on your counter and you can buy compostable bags at the grocery store to line the inside and further contain the compost.

Just put all your fresh vegetable and fruit cuttings in there as you prepare meals.  No cooked leftovers should ever be added, nor meat or fats (eggshells are okay, eggs yolks are not).  You’ll be amazed that the compost never smells if you stick to these rules and you can dump the bags in your German compost bin when it gets full.  We’ll explain all about the compost bins that the city provides in our next post.

Buy all drinks in returnable containers

Once you get the hang of this, you’ll love it!  There are several stores in Germany that sell only drinks, both alcoholic (beer and wine for miles) and non-alcoholic (water, juice, iced tea, soda).  You just head in, buy a case or two of what you want, pay at the cashier and then return the glass bottles and cases when you’re finished.  You can buy some things by the individual bottle as well, such as wine or non-alcoholic beverages including juice.

When you return the cases, the cashier will tell you what number pallet to drop your items off at in the store (usually right near the cashier) and you’ll get a receipt with the refund amount that you can use toward your next purchase or take the cash instead.

It’s a great way to try new juices, water, beer, etc and the perfect way to reduce your trash and help protect the environment.

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