Ask anyone who has had a chance to live in Germany, and they’ll tell you that the country’s waste separation and disposal schemes are legendary. As you are living in Germany, there are some unique recycling and waste disposal systems you must keep in mind – mostly recycling old furniture.
In Germany, people mostly recycle old furniture by disposing of it with bulky waste. However, you can also refinish and reupholster it, giving the furniture a new lease of life. Alternatively, you can trade or donate it.
If you want to change furniture or move but don’t want to ferry all the bulky stuff to the new location, you may want to dispose of them before the scheduled free collection times. While most German councils have routine times within the year when they collect bulk waste like furniture for free, there are other legal ways to dispose of furniture in the country, as we’ll see below.
How to dispose of old furniture in Germany?
The main way to dispose of old furniture is to take it out on the street and wait until the bulky waste service picks it up. However, people also upcycle the furniture to create unique and functional pieces. With that said, you can dispose of your old furniture in several ways in Germany:
1. Send it with bulky waste (Sperrmüll)
Generally, you can recycle most items that are too large with a service for bulky waste. Sending it with bulky waste is the best option if you aren’t in a hurry to get rid of old furniture pieces.
Simply wait for the local bulky waste pick-up dates. The days of the pick-up are usually announced in advance. When the day comes, take out the furniture and leave it on the street. The service is free of charge.
However, if you want to proceed quicker, you can schedule a pick-up with the municipality at an additional fee. The costs and the procedure vary depending on the municipality. In some cities, pick-up happens regularly and free of charge. You just need to leave the furniture on the street prior to that.
Alternatively, you can bring it to the recycling center (Wertstoffhof) yourself without the need to wait for a pick-up. But this will cost you a fee plus arranging the transportation.
What counts as bulky waste (Sperrmüll)?
- Baby carriages
- Bulky household items (e.g., mattresses, suitcases, bicycles)
- Bulky garden and household tools (e.g., gasoline lawn mower without gasoline)
What isn’t a bulky waste?
- Construction waste
- Commercial or industrial waste
- Green waste (Grünabfall)
- Car parts (e.g., tires, rims)
- Glass and glass containers
- Oil stove and heating oil tanks, oil tanks
- Hazardous waste from private households
2. Donate your furniture
You can also donate your old furniture to people who need it. In fact, many Germans prefer to donate items instead of throwing them away. The Red Cross “Rotes Kreuz” is one of the largest German organizations accepting donations.
They might even offer a free pickup of your old furniture.
3. Sell your old furniture
Besides, you can use the app Shpock (flea market) to sell used items. However, don’t expect to make a lot of money from your old pieces – used furniture is very cheap in Germany. You might even give it away for 1 EUR if the demand is low.
4. Upcycle the furniture
Before throwing away the old piece of furniture, consider whether an upgrade makes sense. This might be the case for old wooden furniture, which you can turn into “vintage.”
Recycling of old furniture in Germany
Overall, Germany has the best recycling rates in the world, ranking as the top recycling country every year since 2016. While it lags behind Sweden, Wales, and the Netherlands for plastic recycling, it outshines every other country in repurposing and disposing of non-plastic waste.
When German residents want to dispose of furniture, they first sort the furniture by construction material. Plastics, wooden, and metal furniture each go in separate piles.
The furniture is then hauled outside to a collection point just outside the home. This might be on the street or a back alley, depending on where local garbage collectors pick up the trash.
However, before sorting out the furniture and placing it in the street, people are generally required to schedule a pickup appointment with the garbage collection company. Some companies only need you to schedule the appointment through a phone call.
While others require the owners of the items to complete a bulk waste card, a process that attracts a fee depending on the company. On the card, you register the type of furniture you want to dispose of, when it will be ready for collection, and in what quantities.
This enables the company to plan accordingly and avoid surprises when they come to collect. It’s also an excellent checklist to ensure you list and separate everything you want to trash.
Recycling furniture in Germany
In Germany, furniture falls under the bulky waste category. This means they are too big and too heavy to fit into standard waste containers and thus require special collection arrangements.
Typically, you’ll also need to disassemble furniture before putting it out on the street. So, what qualifies as furniture? Some examples considered bulky furniture items include beds, sofas, cupboards, mattresses, chairs, and tables.
Furniture on the streets
It’s not uncommon to find fairly new items on the streets waiting to be collected. When most immigrants come across these sights for the first time, the first thing that comes to mind is there might be something they could use on the pile of bulky waste.
However, unlike in places like the US, where dumpster diving is a full-time job for some recyclers and upcyclers, the laws in Germany are vastly different. Therefore, it’s important to determine the owner of the stuff on the street according to the law and whether it’s free for the taking.
Generally, furniture put on the street stays there for a couple of hours before the disposal company picks it up. This gives collectors and scavengers ample time to rummage through the items.
While at it, it’s common for those looking for something to salvage to mix items that the owner had separated.
This makes it a pain for the collection company as they have to sort the items again. It’s also against the law in most German jurisdictions.
By law, when the furniture owner calls a waste disposal company and authorizes them to collect specific furniture as waste, they technically transfer ownership to the waste disposal entity.
Can you take the furniture that is left on the streets?
If you’re wondering whether there are consequences for taking furniture left in the street for disposal, the short answer is yes. Most German municipalities consider carting away bulk waste from a designated collection point an administrative offense.
Therefore, anyone caught rummaging through these items is liable for prosecution. Still, most first offenders typically get away with a verbal or rewritten warning. On the other hand, repeat culprits are slapped with fines, with extreme cases involving violators charged with theft.
You can avoid rubbing authorities the wrong way by asking the owner of the items whether you can pick a specific piece of furniture from their pile of waste.
As more Germans adopt a “zero waste” policy, you’d be surprised by how accommodating people can be when they know their waste might be able to help someone else upgrade their lifestyle.
How to get rid of furniture in Berlin?
Berlin Waste Management (Berliner Stradtreinigung), or BSR, is responsible for proper waste management and disposal for the city’s two million-plus households.
It’s also responsible for keeping the city clean and rubbish-free all year round. So, using the BSR is the best way to get rid of furniture in Berlin. The BSR requires that you schedule a pickup time for the company to collect your bulky waste.
This involves filing an extensive form detailing the location, items, and quantities you’re disposing of. The following are what the BSR considers bulky waste:
- Large and small pieces of furniture (must be disassembled)
- Scrap, e.g., old bicycles, prams, etc.
- Glassless plastic door and window frames, laminate, etc.
- Carpets and mattresses
- Wood from living areas
- Plastic plumbing and bathroom components such as cisterns, guttering, bathtubs, and pipes
The company helps you dispose of up to 3 cubic meters of furniture waste per delivery, free of charge. The only downside is that you’ll have to deliver the waste to one of BSR’s recycling centers.
However, if you want the company to pick up the waste furniture from your home for disposal at any of their facilities, you’ll have to dip it into your pocket.
The table below shows typical fees if you want the BSR to pick up your furniture for disposal.
*It’s important to note that the fees in the table above are applicable only when the furniture is disassembled. If you want the company to dismantle the furniture for you, you’ll have to book and pay for the extra service.
In Berlin, you don’t always have to trash all the furniture you want to dispose of. Instead, you can give it away for use by others who need it most. BSR provides two alternative recycling arrangements:
- NochMall – This program allows you to dispose of used furniture at the NochMall, BSR’s used goods department store, as long as the furniture is in good condition. Here, German citizens and residents without the budget to buy brand new furniture can buy used pieces for a fraction of the price.
- Barter and giveaway market – There’s an adage that goes, ‘one man’s trash is another man’s treasure.’ The BSR’s barter and giveaway market is Berlin’s embodiment of this saying. This is a goods exchange program where you get to trade furniture in good condition but that you no longer need for other items you may want.
So, before trashing your old, used furniture, you can always evaluate the two alternatives above. You may just end up saving some cash by trading instead of trashing.
As a new immigrant, you may not know the best time to dispose of your old furniture. This is where your neighbors and community comes in. Disposing of bulky items can be expensive and cumbersome, even for the waste collection company.
As a result, waste disposal companies only schedule a time to collect bulky items and furniture when a specific route has enough scheduled collections to fill the garbage trucks.
Consequently, most neighborhoods come together and agree on a set date when they can schedule a pick-up. That way, it’s unlikely that trash will stay on the street longer than 24 hours before collection.
The alternative is to deliver the furniture to the BSR’s facilities yourself, especially when you don’t have the luxury of waiting days or weeks before the next collection day.
If you don’t have the time or energy, you can also contact an independent collection entity such as AFLEX to pick up and deliver your disposable furniture to the BSR.
When taking out your disposable furniture, remember that most waste collection companies, including the BSR, only pick up items you’ve indicated in your collection order.
If you add any piece of furniture you didn’t indicate, it won’t make it to the waste collection truck.