How to recycle? Our Recycling Guide.
The best garbage does not exist in the first place. What happens when it does? How do you sort your garbage properly? What about the plastic cup with yogurt leftovers, the empty bowl of hummus, and the oily pizza box? Do you separate metal lids from jam jars and do you have to wash them before disposal? We answered these questions together with Vanessa from UNWASTE, and Marie and Hannah from OCLEAN. You can find our answers and our recycling guide here.
To start with, here are a few facts and figures about 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 of it has been incinerated and most of it is still lying around. On garbage dumps, on beaches, in our oceans, you name it.
💡 In 2017, 5.2 million tons of plastic packaging waste were generated in Germany.
💡 Of this, 60% was recycled for energy, 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 tons were recycled.
💡 Of the 38%, just over 35% were sold abroad. What happens with it is not really known. That is 14% of the total plastic waste.
💡 Only 15.6% was ultimately reprocessed for the manufacture of plastic products. Of that, only 7.2% is of a quality comparable to virgin plastic that can be reprocessed into new products.
💡 Recycled plastic accounts for 2.8% of the plastic produced in Germany.
💡 One piece of good news at the end: there are raw materials that are already well recycled, such as paper, glass, and metal. Here, the rate is over 90% in some cases.
So we are still a long way 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 and 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 by type.
❌ Raw materials are cheaper than recycled materials
The recycling industry has been slow to develop in recent decades and is not efficient. For the packaging industry, new raw materials are cheaper than recycled materials.
❌ Poor Packaging Design
Waste is a flaw in product design. Supermarket shelves are crowded and competition is fierce. Brands, therefore, need to stand out: Colorful and elaborate packaging is important to draw the eye to the product and encourage purchase.
❌ Sorting waste is a hollow obligation, not a duty to bring in waste
The German recycling model varies from state to state and from city sanitation department to city sanitation department. There is simply a lack of clear information for the population about what belongs wherein the garbage. Someone in Stuttgart, for example, has to separate garbage differently than someone in Hamburg.
Rethinking on many Levels
Most waste separation and disposal are self-explanatory and relatively easy. Once you have familiarized yourself a little with the specifics, you won't forget them so quickly and will gradually 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 handled correctly.
Now let's get down to brass tacks: Where does which waste belong?
With all the different types of plastic and mixing ratios, it's not easy to dispose of everything properly. Nevertheless, we can all do our part to ensure that the resources do not become waste directly, but are returned to the cycle as important recyclable materials.
Only packaging made of plastic, aluminum and sheet metal goes in here: Films, plastic packaging, tubes, beverage cartons and empty food cans. If possible, packaging waste should be disposed of separately according to recyclable materials. Examples include: Yogurt cups, coffee-to-go lids, chip bags, aluminum cans and tetra packs. So in the case of a yogurt cup, it is important to dispose of the cardboard sleeve accordingly, as well as to put the aluminum cup and the yogurt separately in the yellow bag.
⚠️ 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.
As the name implies, this is paper and cardboard. Examples of appropriate products are: Letters (note: remove clear film viewing window beforehand), toilet paper rolls, newspapers, blue cash register receipts and cartons, and egg cartons.
⚠️ What many don't know! Greasy pizza boxes belong in the residual waste, not in the paper garbage can, as they cannot be recycled again due to the oil stains.
Leftovers from the kitchen and vegetable waste from the garden belong here. How about a worm garbage can, as an alternative for those who don't have a bio garbage can or compost pile?
⚠️ What definitely does not belong in here! Compostable plastic and bioplastic, this takes too long to decompose or does not decompose at all.
All waste that does not belong to another waste category belongs in the residual waste: This is where all things that are not recyclable or cannot be separated properly end up. Everything in the residual waste is incinerated. Used masks belong here. Also used handkerchiefs, baking and bread paper, cigarettes, coffee-to-go cups & china.
This all goes in the glass container:
▶️ Jam and honey jars
▶️ Fruit and vegetable jars
▶️ Bottles for vinegar, oil, ketchup, and sauces
▶️ Champagne, wine, and juice bottles
⚠️ Drinking glasses do not belong here. They can be disposed of in the residual waste without any problems. Why? Drinking glasses are made of a different glass mixture and cannot be further processed in glass melting furnaces. Larger mirrors and window panes should be collected with bulky waste or taken to a recycling center.
⚠️ Cups and jars should be "spoon clean". Lids should be removed, as they are not always separated at sorting facilities.
⚠️ Red and blue glass belongs to the green glass because it can absorb the largest amount of different colors.
This is not to be confused with used clothing containers. Textile containers hold everything that is no longer wearable. The textiles should not be excessively dirty. If there is no division into textile and old clothes containers, the following rule of thumb applies: all textiles can go into municipal old clothes containers and only those that can really still be worn can go into parity old clothes containers.
What happens with the clothes? Some of the wearable clothing is donated to charity stores. Unwearable textiles are shredded and either used for upholstery, made into stuffing and insulating materials or turned into cleaning rags and blankets. Fun Fact: In 2020, so much textile was sorted out in private homes that the market was oversaturated. In many places, the containers were dismantled.
Hazardous waste or recycling centers collect all waste that is particularly dangerous because it is explosive, flammable, hazardous to the air, hazardous to water, pathogenic, or hazardous to health. Because these materials pose a high risk, they are marked with special warning symbols, such as a dead fish, a flame, or a skull and crossbones. Examples include batteries, used oil, and paint/lacquer.
Old washing machines, televisions, electric cables, household appliances, cell phones, and other electronic devices can be dropped off at the recycling/recycling center free of charge and in an environmentally friendly manner.
⚠️ Tip: Check beforehand whether the product can no longer be repaired or could be put to good use by someone else. In this way, you increase the life cycle of the product and improve the carbon footprint.
Our top tips for getting off to the perfect start in the colorful trash business:
♻️ Get informed: Which garbage cans do I have?
♻️ Acquire a recycling system for your home
♻️ Implement a recycling system for the office
♻️ Hang a recycling guide on the wall
♻️ Talk about it and inform others
♻️ Visit a waste recycling plant and get a picture of the waste masses (there are free guided tours by the city cleaning)
♻️ Learn about plastic alternatives
♻️ Away from disposable, towards reusable
♻️ Get into action
Recycling sounds hard, but it's not at all.
The knowledge about the importance of recycling, as well as how it works, just has to - slowly but surely - become part of our daily rituals and habits. Every now and then, of course, you have to read up here and there, but in principle, it's child's play. With the Recycling Guide on the wall, nothing can go wrong.
In the PLAN3T app, you'll currently find zero-waste challenges for which you can grab double Planet Coins. Try your hand at 'Buy reusable instead of disposable' and 'Reuse your to-go cup' and track your success every Sunday. We hope you have fun trying out the challenges. If you have ideas for future blog posts or more questions, feel free to write to us at email@example.com or contact us on Instagram, Facebook, or LinkedIn.
About UNWASTE, OCLEAN, and PLAN3T.
Together, OCLEAN, UNWASTE, and PLAN3T are working for a greener tomorrow, pursuing the mission of mobilizing each one of us to make a difference. Because we can. For our environment, our togetherness, and our future.
Marie, Hannah, and Lena are sisters from Hamburg who founded the non-profit GmbH OCLEAN in 2019. They didn't want to just talk about sustainability anymore, they simply wanted to take action, and they wanted to do it on their doorstep. They started with public trash collection campaigns, followed by events and workshops. The topics of waste separation, plastic avoidance, resource conservation, circular economy, and recycling are dealt with in a colorful way, without pointing fingers and with a lot of fun.
UNWASTE is a zero-waste store in the heart of St. Pauli and was founded in 2020 by Vanessa. After participating in cleanups as an active member through the Clean Ocean Project and seeing the development pollution of nature by our garbage, she decided to start a curated non-food zero-waste concept store incl. consulting and education according to the motto "start in front of your own door piece by piece" with the goal to offer solutions for a sustainable everyday life privately and for businesses and gastronomy.
Together with his brother, Kaspar, and his former work colleague, Chris, Lukas founded PLAN3T to make sustainability easier for everyone in everyday life. The Hamburg-based impact app accompanies its users on their way to a sustainable everyday life by challenging users and rewarding them for climate action. PLAN3T is now located in beautiful Altona and is growing day by day.