Environmental Awareness in Germany

In Germany, environmental protection is a very important topic. People who live in Germany are expected to take responsibility for the environment by behaving in an environmentally friendly way.

This includes measures or personal decisions to:

  • not waste water or electricity
  • carry reusable carrier bags
  • use greener modes of transportation
  • buy organic products
  • separate waste and recycling


Green Energy Providers

In 2000, the German government announced its plans to phase out all nuclear power in Germany by 2021. The need for alternative sources of green energy has since led to a boost in funding for renewable sources. The target is for 80% of Germany’s energy to be renewable by 2080. This means that many companies offer sustainable electricity (Ӧkostrom) and gas (Ӧkogas) generated from renewable sources such as solar and wind.

If you wish to change your energy supplier or contract to renewable sources, it is a fairly quick and easy process, as your new company will do most of the administration for you. All you need to do is select a new company and provide them with some details (such as the details of your bank account, meter number and estimated usage). They will then contact your previous energy supplier to cancel your contract and set everything up in time to ensure a smooth transition.


Ban on Plastic Bags

The German Environment Ministry drafted a bill which would ban single-use plastic bags in 2020. Most people living in Germany have adapted to carrying reusable shopping bags as an alternative to single-use paper or plastic bags. It is often a tote bag made from fabric such as canvas, natural fibres such as jute, woven synthetic fibres, or a thick plastic that is more durable than disposable plastic bags, allowing for multiple uses. Reusable bags can be easily purchased in grocery or drug stores.


Electric Cars

The adoption of plug-in electric vehicles in Germany is actively supported by the federal government. In 2010 Chancellor Angela Merkel set the goal to deploy one million electric vehicles on German roads by 2020. An incentive scheme to promote plug-in electric vehicle adoption gives electric car buyers a 4,000€ discount and buyers of plug-in hybrid vehicles get a discount of 3,000€. Germany has a large network of charging stations, which can be found here: https://openchargemap.org/site


Bicycle/E-Scooter Sharing

Bicycle-sharing systems, public bicycle programs, or E-scooter-sharing systems are services in which bicycles or scooters are made available for shared use to individuals on a short term basis for a price or for free. Many bike share systems allow people to borrow a bike from a “dock” and return it at another dock belonging to the same system. Docks are special bike racks that lock the bike, and only release it by computer control. The user enters payment information, and the computer unlocks a bike. The user returns the bike by placing it in the dock, which locks it in place. Other systems are dockless. For many systems, smartphone mapping apps show nearby available bikes or E-scooters and open docks. In Potsdam, bikes are offered by Nextbike and Swapfiets and E-scooters are offered by Tier. Voi previously offered E-scooters in Potsdam, though they may or may not offer this service again.

nextbike by TIER: https://www.nextbike.de/en/potsdam/

Tier: https://www.tier.app/

Voi: https://www.voiscooters.com/de/

Swapfiets is a bicycle rental service with a subscription service similar to Netflix: for a fixed monthly fee, you receive a sturdy bicycle and a lock delivered to your house. The bicycles are insured against theft, with a 60€ deductible for a replacement bicycle. If there is something wrong with the bicycle, a repairman will come to you to repair the bicycle or swap it out for a functioning one at no extra cost. The subscription can be cancelled at any time with a termination period of one month. For a street bicycle with 7 gears, the monthly subscription price is 19,50€. Starting in March 2020, a cheaper model with only one gear will also be available in Potsdam. In the future, the service plans to also offer E-Bikes for around 75€ per month.

Swapfiets: https://swapfiets.de/en/


Organic Products

Europe is by far the largest producer of and market for organic food worldwide and Germany is the leading market within Europe. To this day Germany remains one of Europe’s leading countries in terms of both acreage and total number of farms devoted to organic farming practices. Organic products are labelled with the EU organic logo, which was introduced in July 2010 to identify organic food produced in accordance with EU law. In Germany, it is often combined with the German state seal and the logos of other organic farming associations. Please find an overview about all ecolabels in Germany.



Germany is celebrated as a recycling role model around the world. When the recycling system with the “green dot” was introduced as a symbol in 1991, it was unparalleled. Manufacturers and retailers have to pay for a “Green Dot” on products: the more packaging there is, the higher the fee. This system has led to less paper, thinner glass and less metal being used, thus creating less garbage to be recycled. The net result: a drastic decline of about one million tons less garbage than normal every year.

A major part of the success of this program is the proper sorting of garbage, which can be tricky for newcomers. The color of the bin lid is key. It’s important to note that not all municipalities have the exact same system. You may not find a brown or yellow bin at your doorstep, for example. And paper will probably go into a blue bin. In the absence of a yellow bin, households may have to put plastic materials into a yellow plastic bag (Gelbe Sack). The bag is then placed outside for collection at regularly scheduled times. The bags can be picked up in various places throughout a community – at a nearby kiosk or at a local grocery store.

  • Blue Bin: Paper. All packaging made of paper and cardboard, newspapers, magazines, wastepaper, paper bags, etc, belong in the blue bin. You are supposed to flatten boxes before putting them in the bin, and make sure you throw only the box in the blue bin and not the plastic wrappers inside the box.
  • Yellow Bin: Plastic. Cans, plastic, polystyrene, aluminum, tinplate and “composite” materials like beverage cartons made of a mixture of materials belong in the yellow bin or should be put in the yellow bags. Empty spray cans are also allowed here. You are not supposed to put stuff inside each other, like the yogurt cup inside the baked beans tin. If possible, quickly rinse the cans and cups before throwing them in the bin, as this stuff gets sorted by hand.
  • Brown Bin: Compost/Biological Waste. Biological waste is anything that would normally go on the compost heap in a good gardener’s back yard. This includes kitchen scraps, peels, leftover food, coffee filters, tea bags and garden waste. If you live in a house, you probably will have a separate brown bin for this.
  • Black/Grey Bin: Waste. This bin is literally “for the rest” and is for things like ash, cigarette butts, old household objects like hairbrushes and frying pans, textiles and nylon stockings, nappies/diapers, tissues, other personal hygiene items, extremely dirty paper, etc. Everything in the gray bins will be incinerated. If you are not fortunate enough to have a separate brown bin and don’t feel like making your own compost heap, you can throw your biological waste in this bin.
  • Glass. Any kind of bottle or glass jar that is non-returnable and on which you did not pay a deposit or “Pfand” belongs in a designated glass bin. This includes wine bottles, jam/preserve jars, oil bottles, juice bottles and even medicine bottles. Glass is sorted by color and you will find bins for depositing green, brown and clear glass in your neighborhood. Please keep in mind that bottles can only be recycled outside of designated Quiet Times (from 8 p.m. until 7 a.m. and all day on Sundays and holidays).
  • Batteries. Batteries are disposed of separately. Look out for a small bin (it looks like a small rubbish bin) near the door at your local grocery store. You can deposit your used batteries here for proper disposal.
  • Hazardous Waste. Fluorescent tubes, batteries and acids, cans of paint still containing paint, thinners, adhesives, corrosives, disinfectants, insecticides, and so forth, has to be treated as hazardous waste. Hazardous waste should be deposited at a collection point (Deponie). In some neighborhoods, a notice will be circulated with dates for when this type of waste will be collected curbside.


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