The yellow bag and yellow bin as a misclassification trap: these 10 tips help you dispose of your waste correctly

Whether amusing or repulsive: there are things that really don’t belong in any bin – and definitely not in the yellow one. But often that’s where they end up. The staff at the sorting plants see this every day: loads of no-no’s on the sorting conveyor. These were the most astonishing finds – and how they should actually be disposed of.

© Hündgen Entsorgung GmbH & Co. KG in Swisttal / Frank Arleth

1. A dead cat

Yes, you read that right. Staff members at a sorting plant found the body of a dead cat in the packaging waste. Misclassification factor: off the chart.

This is what you actually need to do:

Although we all love our pets, the bodies of dead animals are classed as special waste and are either disposed of by the vet or taken to a local collection point or carcass disposal plant. As long as your garden is not in a water protection area or nature reserve or in the immediate vicinity of public paths and squares, you can bury your pet there – but it has to be at a depth of at least 80 centimetres. If in doubt, pet owners should ask the responsible local authority. There are also many pet graveyards these days. You can bury your pet there, of course.

2. Paddling pool

The things you need to have fun between June and August do sometimes break: swimming goggles, flippers, paddling pools – many such items have ended up in the sorting plant. And that’s not really where they belong!

This is what you actually need to do:

your broken summer gear belongs in the non-recyclable waste. It may be made of plastic, but that’s not reason enough to place it in the yellow bin. It is not packaging – and that’s what the yellow bin and the yellow bag is for. Paddling pools and co. belong in the non-recyclable waste.

3. Video and audio tapes

Let’s be honest, there are not many people who still use the old video recorders. Anyone who has not yet subscribed to an online streaming service will at least watch films on DVD or Blu-ray and finally get rid of their VHS tapes from the 90s at the next spring clean. But please don’t put them in the yellow bin or yellow bag!

This is what you actually need to do:

Anyone who remembers how infuriating it was to find chewed up tape in the recorder can imagine what the staff at the sorting plant have to go through every time tapes get tangled up in the machine. It’s no fun. Please therefore place the tapes in the non-recyclable waste, preferably without having taken them apart. By the way: CDs do not belong in the yellow bin, either. The polycarbonate they are made of is a valuable raw material. Some local authorities therefore offer special collection points for CDs.

4. Syringes

Syringes themselves are bad enough. But when the needles are still attached, then that’s no laughing matter. More and more medical waste ends up in the sorting plant – including disposable gloves or infusion tubes. The theory behind this is that because more people are cared for at home, more of such special waste ends up in the yellow bin. This is an absolute no-no: in addition to the risk of infection, there is also a high risk of injury for the staff at the sorting plant.

This is what you actually need to do:

The care service staff should take medical waste like syringes with them and properly dispose of it. If they don’t take it away, place it in the non-recyclable waste bin, absolutely not with the recycling. Syringes must not simply be placed into the non-recyclable waste bin. For safety reasons, all syringes used at home must be placed in puncture-proof and break-proof waste containers, the kind also used in doctors’ surgeries. This also applies to disposable syringes with a protective mechanism that covers up the needle after use.

5. Nappies

While nappies do nicely wrap up a baby’s bottom, they cannot be regarded as packaging. This is a common mistake! As a result, many well-filled nappies end up in the yellow bin or yellow bag and find their way onto the conveyor belts of the sorting plants – much to the chagrin of the staff there.

This is what you actually need to do:

Even though nappies appear to be made of plastic, they cannot be recycled – especially not used wet ones. So please only ever dispose of these little stink bombs with the non-recyclable waste.

6. Batteries

If you want to be really pedantic you could argue that batteries are packaging for the energy storage system on the inside. But really it should be obvious that they are not recyclable packaging and do not belong in the yellow bin or in other household waste bins.

This is what you actually need to do:

We know that having to hoard empty batteries is a nuisance. But it’s worth it. It’s not just good for the environment, it also keeps the toxins away from the valuable materials and preserves them. Simply put a small box next to the returnable bottles and dispose of its content in the green collection container next time you go to the supermarket or hand it in to the municipal hazardous waste collection vehicle. In the sorting plant, the best-case scenario is that the batteries end up with the scrap metal, where they will contaminate the recyclable material. It can be catastrophic if batteries end up in a shredder. As recently as 2018 a major fire broke out at a recycling plant in Rostock, causing millions in damage.

7. Trailer hitch

A trailer hitch including base unit has ended up in a sorting plant. Other small car and bicycle parts – such as rear lights, pedals etc. – are also regularly placed in the yellow bag. But that’s not where they belong.

This is what you actually need to do:

Car and bicycle parts can be placed in the non-recyclable waste bin. However, it would make much more sense to take such things with you next time you visit the repair shop and have them disposed of professionally. Because then these materials can also be recycled.

8. Tarpaulins

Whole tents or tarpaulins made of fabric, sometimes even with eyelets – that’s not uncommon in a sorting plant. You’ve clearly missed the mark.

This is what you actually need to do:

Such items also belong in the non-recyclable waste bin. Tarpaulins are of course not packaging. And what’s worse, they are far too large for a sorting plant, which means they can get caught up in the machines.

9. Food and leftovers

Some yoghurt will of course stick to the side of the pot even if you have carefully spooned it all up. This is not a problem for the sorting plant or for recycling. Things are a bit more unsavoury when it comes to food that’s gone off: a pot of cream that’s swollen up, a shrink-wrapped schnitzel that’s gone green or a forgotten sandwich wrapped in foil. And the half-eaten kebab is not very nice either. But all these things are not an uncommon sight in a sorting plant.

This is what you actually need to do:

Given the huge amount of food that is wasted in Germany, it would be nice if we didn’t leave our food in the fridge to go off. But if it does happen and the food really is out of date and inedible, then the best thing to do is remove the packaging, place the food in the organic waste and the packaging in the yellow bin. If even unwrapping the spoiled food is too unpleasant to countenance, then (and only then) you can place the packaging along with its contents in the non-recyclable waste. And of course, if there is no organic waste bin, spoiled food and leftovers are thrown out with the non-recyclable waste. If you’re not sure about what constitutes organic waste – information is available from the Federal Environment Ministry.

10. Yellow bin

A yellow bin on the sorting conveyor of the recycling plant gives waste separation an interesting meta-level. The bin didn’t do the sorting plant any good of course; it’s far too big to fit through the machines – even if it is broken into individual pieces. It wasn’t a consumer who threw it away. A refuse collection vehicle’s faulty tipping mechanism had caused it to fall inside the truck. And because the press in the vehicles does its work without delay, there was nothing left to save. The owner of the bin was of course given a replacement.

Let’s remember:

While such misclassifications may seem amusing, each incorrectly disposed of piece of rubbish means significantly more and unnecessary work for the staff at the sorting plant. It also makes the recycling of packaging more difficult and sometimes impossible altogether. Whatever the reasons for such a mistake – be it ignorance, laziness or thoughtlessness, mother nature will thank us if we think before we separate our waste.