Liv Hambrett

Germany + Australia + Culture + Motherhood + Home

Life in Weiden

Of Rubbish Systems

The Germans have this thing with rubbish. And I have a thing with the German thing with rubbish. As per the norm, each apartment block has three garbage bins around the side: a bio waste bin, a paper/cardboard bin and a normal rubbish bin. The Germans love nothing more than a nice, methodical system and they are very good when it comes to keeping their rubbish separate. Just like they are very good at most systems, except a queuing system, but that is another discussion for another day. The ability to keep to a methodical rubbish separating system is all very well, however in the two apartment blocks I have lived in thus far, both have been given three extremely small rubbish bins to accommodate the rubbish of around ten people. Imagine a regular otto bin and halve it. It is the kind of bin a family of four would keep in their kitchen. Of the three tiny bins, the bio waste and the recycling bin seem to fill slowly, with the lid still being able to comfortably close by the week’s end, but the normal rubbish bin is consistently overflowing with the rubbish of neighbours who have gotten in before you. Neighbours who have kilos of dirty nappies and annoyingly large items to throw away, that get wedged halfway down the tiny otto, rendering the rest of it useless.

In my early, more naive days, I asked my flatmate why we couldn’t just pop our modest garbage bag down next to the tiny otto – the garbage collector would obviously know to collect it when he collected the rest of the rubbish. My flatmate looked mildly surprised I would even suggest such a thing.

‘They won’t take it.’

‘So they will just leave the bag of obvious garbage, sitting next to a full garbage bin, lying there.’

‘Of course.’

And before anyone says something about the garbage truck using an automated claw to pick up the garbage bin, the collecting person has to wheel the tiny otto over to the road, so the automated claw can pick it up. So he/she has to touch the garbage bin and take it away from its home, so why not touch the garbage bag sitting next to the bin? No go, my friend, no go. Adding rogue, homeless garbage bags to the collection of homed garbage bags isn’t part of the system. If it ain’t in the rulebook, it ain’t going to happen.

Ever curious and essentially looking for an outlet for my bin-frustration, I then asked the SG why apartment blocks always have such tiny bins and why the landlords couldn’t provide bigger bins. He said they did provide bigger bins if you called your landlord and appealed for a bigger bin, citing the reasons why you need one. Other tenants in the block have to agree with this appeal and if your wish for a bigger bin is granted, the additional cost of having a bin would then be added to your monthly rent. I said that was ridiculous, landlords shouldn’t give apartment blocks miniature bins and then wait for them to get desperate enough to officially request and pay for a larger one on the premise all the tenants agree. It is a shameless money making scheme! And what if one tenant vetoes? SG said it wasn’t ridiculous, you could have a bigger bin if you wanted it and I said it is ridiculous, one shouldn’t have to fight for a normal sized rubbish bin and then pay extra and we agreed to disagree and continued the drive in silence.


The direct result of such a bossy, mean rubbish system (in both senses of the word) is the stealth-deposit. This activity involves finding another bin – very daring – or, a little less foolhardy – a station where you can deposit only the following – glass, paper, plastic – and putting your rubbish in one of those three bins. Desperate times, desperate measures. Germans take the stealth deposit very seriously, because God forbid they get caught. Not by any garbage authority, but by a fellow civilian. Because that fellow civilian will either report you (by finding an envelope with your name on it, in your garbage) or subject you to such intense, German disapproval, you will want to weep and beg for your mother, before taking your garbage out of the illegal bin and smearing yourself in it as a peace offering.

This afternoon, SG and I took our rubbish downstairs, only to find our tiny bin was filled to the brim with dirty nappies. Faced with the option of taking our rubbish back upstairs and waiting for the bins to be emptied in a few days and then bolting back down to cram our shit in before our neighbours crammed in their baby’s, or a stealth deposit, we chose the latter. Shaking his head, SG put our rubbish in the boot and we set out.

We drove to a nearly deserted deposit site. An idling car was glanced at with suspicion and SG muttered under his breath his favourite (and vaguely Denglish) catchphrase, ‘what do you do for a job?’ which is a useful expression when someone is doing something you don’t understand, like driving erratically or idling by a garbage deposit site. We waited for another car to move on before SG exited our vehicle. Pulling our garbage bags out of the boot and shoving them into a bigger, non-transparent bag, he asked me for the third time if there was anything in the rubbish that had my name on it. I said, for the third time, absolutely nothing. Then a voice intoned grimly from the boot, ‘Olivia Hambrett’ and my Münster address. Pause. ‘Well I don’t live there anymore anyway.’

The offending document was removed from the rubbish and left in the boot. One, particularly a rule abiding north German, cannot take any chances. Then, glancing both ways, like a gazelle, SG sprinted across the street and, in the blink of an eye, threw our garbage into one of the bins. Under the cover of the darkening afternoon, we drove away.

No one saw us. And even if they did, they would only have seen an innocuous shopping bag being lobbed into a rubbish bin. The ultimate stealth deposit.

And next time I am taking out the nappies and putting them next to the rubbish bin. Not my problem if they’re not collected. And if anyone reports rogue rubbish bags floating around downstairs, there’s no baby in this apartment.

Image credit


  1. Jacky Hyams

    7 March, 2012 at 8:43 am

    Crikey, Liv. I figured Germans had some funny habits but this is maddening.
    Here, I take my recycling stuff down to the special bins provided by the local authority
    just down the road (don’t ask about our rubbish collection from 88 100 year old apartments with narrow stairwells, four storeys and no lift!)
    The problem is, everyone takes their recycling stuff on weekends so the so called recycling area becomes like…a real rubbish dump. And it only gets collected once a week. Hideous.
    But still, no one would dob their neighbours in for sloppy habits — for a start, there are too many people too lazy to put their rubbish in a proper bag!

  2. admin

    7 March, 2012 at 8:49 am

    See, the system here is quite good. Three bins outside the apartment block and a plastic bottle recycling deposit station at every supermarket where you get 25c for most plastic bottles. Anything bigger gets put out when the council does their collection, or you drive it to the tip. No problem. Well, no problem if the BINS WERE BIGGER.

    SG did inform me he doesn’t care if he gets caught by a citizen, it is getting caught by the rubbish collectors that he fears, because they fine you. I told him I was scared of getting caught by a citizen – disapproving Germs are the most disapproving of them all!

  3. Ausmisten. Und: Alpina System Color Sonnengelb.

    2 April, 2012 at 3:32 pm

    […] dass es einfach gute Laune macht. Wenn wir jetzt noch entweder mehr oder einfach nur größere Mülltonnen für unser Haus hätten, könnte ich auch direkt alles endgültig […]

  4. westernworld

    7 June, 2012 at 7:45 am

    the thing is that a house or household get’s charged by the volume of the bin provided picking up rouge or orphaned thrash bags would therefore defy the purpose of the billing concept, also german authorities love any occasion to exercise a bit of volkserziehung. so if you want a bigger bin go see your landlord about it.

  5. eemusings

    26 October, 2012 at 1:57 pm

    There is nothing worse than living in a flat where there are too many people for a small bin (or in a house that’s split into multiple dwellings that all have to share the same bin. Oh yes.

  6. winterlust

    26 October, 2012 at 4:46 pm

    This is BRILLIANT! As if you’re doing something wrong when others are overflowing the shared bin!

  7. Christian

    1 December, 2013 at 12:30 pm

    A neighbour of mine calls these nightly stealth deposits “Mülltourismus”. Come to think of it, I can’t remember that I ever did that during the day. Our bins are sufficiently large enough most of the time, so no clandestine operations are called for. But when we have to engage in Mülltourismus, we do it under the cover of darkness. As with Sperrmüll… if you want to add your own Sperrmüll to someone else’s, don’t be seen. Sperrmüll also seems to attract hordes of collectors who will take away anything that looks useful to them, but they don’t mind being seen. Almost comical these German behaviours, first come the vultures, then at night come those that cannot be seen, making up for what others carried away.

    1. Liv

      2 December, 2013 at 3:13 pm

      Hahahaha, thank you for the tips. I haven’t yet had to put Sperrmüll out, but I will remember not to add it to someone else’s collection!

  8. dapasdapro

    2 December, 2013 at 2:25 pm

    You can just order bigger bins 🙂

    1. Liv

      2 December, 2013 at 3:01 pm

      Hahaha I coooould, but that’s not the point!

  9. BKill

    16 February, 2014 at 6:24 am

    Hehe I am a German currently residing in Japan.
    Believe some of the things we Germans are weird in: The Japanese take it to the next level. The garbage here is to be devided into 10! different bags/boxes if any box contains wrong type of garbage it’s not going to be taken away. And YES unwashed plastic containers count as well…

  10. swanpride

    16 June, 2014 at 1:23 pm

    For the record: They do take additional garbage if you put it in the right kind of bag. As in special bags which you have to pay extra for and which signal that you already paid the fee for removing the garbage.

What do you think?