Recycling in Denmark
It is no secret that recycling can be confusing. Especially when moving to a new country and when that country is as sustainability-minded as Denmark. Recycling and reducing any kind of waste is a big deal in Denmark and most households do it not because it is mandatory, but because it is the right thing to do.
The containers available to you will depend on the type of housing you live in. Private homes usually have smaller containers. One container might be divided for both paper and glass/metal/plastic waste. Apartment buildings have multiple containers in the courtyard or underground containers nearby. Usually pictures and text can be found on the containers to help your sorting process.
Remember, the local services dealing with waste differ and it is best to ask the landlord/caretaker of your property if you have any questions about waste sorting in your building.
Contact your municipality
Now before we get into the depths of sorting waste, it is good to keep in mind that each household, municipality etc. is different. A good idea is to give your municipality a call if you are unsure about something. This post is written based on personal experience as well as research, however some things might still be different depending on where in Denmark you live.
A good idea is to google keywords such as “affaldssortering _____” (blank = your municipality). It will lead you to information on how waste is sorted in your municipality.
The ABC system or “Pant A”, “Pant B” and “Pant C” stands for the various bottles and cans that can be returned using the Flaskeautomat (bottle return machines) located at certified grocery stores. All soft drink bottles and cans in Denmark have a fee that is paid upon purchase:
- Pant A = DKK 1.00 (less than 1L glass bottles and aluminium cans)
- Pant B = DKK 1.50 (less than 1L plastic bottles)
- Pant C = DKK 3.00 (1-20L bottles and cans)
These fees are not included in the price tags at stores and are calculated at the register. You can find the following labels on bottles and cans in Denmark:
When the bottles and cans are returned to the machines, a receipt is printed. You can get the money back in cash or used when making a purchase at the store.
Medicinaffald – Pharmaceutical waste
Medicine that is no longer needed, used or has expired can be returned at pharmacies where they will be discarded in a safe manner. Same goes for medical tools such as needles and sharps as well as insulin pens, vaccines or medicine for pets.
Old medicine is considered hazardous waste and should not be disposed of in sinks, toilets, trash and the like. Doing so can result in environmental pollution or the medicine can end up in the wrong hands (f.e. children).
Empty medication packaging is not returned at pharmacies but is disposed of together with other trash (glass, plastic or residual waste).
Read more about pharmaceutical waste here.
Restaffald – Residual waste – becomes heating and electricity
Residual waste can be collected in regular plastic bags or anything you prefer. This is all the waste that’s left after you have done the recycling. The waste is delivered to an incineration plant where it is burned and the energy used for district heating and electricity. About 1/3 of all waste in Denmark is sent to incineration.
Lightbulbs contain mercury which, when burned, releases gas which is harmful to the environment and health. To dispose of lightbulbs safely, you should take them to your local recycling station. Halogen bulbs and incandescent bulbs can be discarded together with residual waste if they are packed safely.
Yes please: dirty packaging, plastic meat trays, milk and juice cartons, pizza boxes, coffee capsules, ceramics, diapers, sanitary waste, styrofoam (large pieces should be delivered to recycling centre), cling film, wrapping paper, cat litter, cardboard egg cartons, plastic bags
No thank you: light bulbs, batteries, chemicals, garden waste (recycling centre)
Madaffald – Food waste – becomes fertiliser and biogas
Food waste containers are for raw as well as cooked food. If not all then most municipalities deliver free biobags (bioposer) specifically for the food waste. Make sure to contact your municipality to find out if they offer such service.
Regular bags and any packaging should not be thrown in the container (unless they are paper bags). The biobags must be tied closed tightly so nothing leaks and thrown in the madaffald bin.
Yes please: Raw & cooked food, eggs & eggshells, nuts & nutshells, fish & fishbones, grains & pasta, meat & bones, teabags (remove the tag and staple), coffee filters, cut flowers, used kitchen roll
No thank you: Cat and other pet litter, potted plants, garden waste (soil/sand), packaged food waste
Papiraffald – Paper waste – becomes new paper
Paper waste should go in the container without a bag. The paper has to be dry and clean before it goes in the bin. This is where all those advertisements and newspapers will end up in if you haven’t applied for the “Nej Tak” stickers.
If the paper is wet or dirty, it should go in the residual waste bin.
Yes please: letters, envelopes (with/without window), newspapers, advertisements, brochures, books, small cardboard items (cereal boxes and the like), shoe boxes, writing/drawing/office paper
Milk, juice and similar cartons as well as pizza boxes and egg trays do not go in these containers.
They are made with a mixture of materials and go in the residual waste bin. Same goes for padded envelopes with mixed materials (bubble wrap etc.). Staples, windows from the envelopes and the like are removed in the recycling process.
Large cardboard items should be taken to a recycling centre or left for bulky waste collection (read more below).
Emballageaffald – Packaging waste – reused for new products
Packaging waste is for glass, metal or plastic packaging that has been washed and is not contaminated with food waste or the like. The packaging must be thrown directly in the bin with no lids on. The labels on bottles and jars can be left on, but the extra effort of removing them is appreciated. If the packaging is dirty and can’t be cleaned, it has to go it the residual waste container.
Yes please: tea-light holder, jars, glass bottles, drinking glasses, plastic containers and bottles, plastic fruit packaging, beer/soda cans, metal lids
No thank you: chip bags, coffee bags, nails, spray cans, plastic flower pots, ceramics
Any tableware like plates, mugs, ceramics etc. goes in the residual waste or has to be taken to a recycling centre.
Storskrald – Bulky waste
There are 3 ways to deal with bulky waste (storskrald):
- Leave the waste on the sidewalk in front of your building the night before waste collecting or before 6am (contact your municipality about the exact days/hours)
- Order a pickup service (information can be found on the website of your municipality)
- Deliver the waste to a recycling centre yourself
If you live in a rental and decide to leave the waste on the street, you need to contact your landlord before doing so. Carpets and large pieces of cardboard should be tied together with a string. If you are leaving a bicycle to be collected as bulky waste, it needs to be marked as such (attach a note to it saying “storskrald”).
Note that bulky waste should not be left next to the underground containers as it can prevent the containers from being lifted as well as the collectors are not equipped to collect such waste.
Each type of waste should be put in separate transparent bags. F.e. clothes and shoes in one bag, pots and pans in other. This way the collectors can see what items are in the bags and take them to the right place for recycling.
Yes please: bicycles, large cardboard items, electronics, white goods, furniture, metal and iron, blankets and mattresses, soft plastic, clothes and shoes, miscellaneous items
No thank you: car parts, construction waste, waste water, hazardous waste, garden waste, glass
Recycling centres are facilities where you can take your household waste that is not food waste or residual waste. These facilities are accessible by vehicles and have multiple large containers available for waste disposal.
Some centres have swap points where you can exchange items that are still usable for other similar items.
To find your local recycling centre, go to the website of your municipality or look up “genbrugsplads _____” (blank = your municipality) on Google.
Kolding municipality has an amazing sorting guide on their website here (in Danish) to help you figure out where to throw what.
Danskretursystem, Affald.dk, Kolding.dk, Horsens.dk, Aarhus.dk, Kk.dk, Sorter-mer.nu, Rodekors