Zero-waste opportunities in Hamburg, meine Perle…

It always surprises people when it comes up in conversation that I was born and raised in Hamburg, Germany.  With a lack of an accent (one that only five people have ever been able to hear), and a passion for Canada’s wilderness, mixed with an easygoing “We’ll figure it out” attitude, you may even think I am making it up!  However, my German roots run deep, and though I have been living in Canada for over twenty years now, not a year goes by that I do not visit meine Perle.

After visiting England and taking note of their lacking eco-consciousness, I jetted off to Germany to visit my Oma in our hometown that hugs the outskirts of the green harbour city of Hamburg, a place I will forever call my home.

My Oma does not live a zero-waste lifestyle, nor do I expect her to.  She lived through the second world war as a young girl, and grew up in a time in which every single thing and person in a household had a purpose.  Farmers were vital to the community, food was scarce and highly respected, and items or skills were traded or shared.  It was a different time.  Many times she speaks of scarce war times, in which they ate potatoes, potatoes, and more potatoes; no wonder Germans have hundreds of different ways of cooking with potatoes.

The point is – things were not wasted.  Everything was used.  Every piece of every animal was harvested and cooked and eaten or otherwise used.  Every vegetable, no matter how imperfect or shriveled, was peeled, chopped, diced, or eaten straight out of the garden; the scraps were composted and turned back into soil to be used again in the next growing season.

My Oma has seen it all.  Her family was one of the first to have a flushing toilet.  The first to have a telephone.  And the last to have a vehicle.  She has seen technology change the world.  She has seen the rise in our wasteful society.  She lives in a time that has hardly any comparison to her own childhood.  She still composts, gardens, and uses cloth bags.  But she is also nearing 90, and our world of convenience is truly helpful to her in her daily life.  Am I mad she doesn’t avoid plastic?  No.  Am I mad she doesn’t recycle glass?  No.  She does what she can for the environment within her physical limitations and I am proud of her.

The main difference I saw between England and Germany in regards to eco-conscious living was opportunity!  There are markets everywhere; it is a weekly task to get fresh vegetables, fruits, meats, etc, at the market.  Here you can easily incorporate your own containers, bags, and ask the vendors nicely with a pretty smile if you can fill your own containers and for them to take off the tare weight.  Delis and bakeries are plentiful in supermarkets, so it never hurts to ask.  There are many more loose fruit and veg in supermarkets as well, if you missed the last market.  They simply seem more aware, although I did not observe that many people shopping with their own containers aside from cloth bags.

Germany has a great recycling system as well, and offers home pick-up.  They are very particular about sorting garbage into the various categories and recycling bins.

I love reading up on what the ladies from alternulltiv have to say about zero-waste in Hamburg.  Typically when I visit Hamburg I just spend time with my family, but they have really shown me what Hamburg has to offer in terms of zero-waste, because they are doing it!  They have been featured on TV as well, showing us how easily it can be done.  Though I didn’t catch their broadcast, I did watch a few segments on plastic waste featured on NDR, which was the first time I have seen such a focus on this toxic problem.

The beautiful green city has so much to offer, but I typically avoid the city and stay on the outskirts to enjoy the protected forest habitats, which fill your heart with green, and reminds you what beauty really means.


And typically I visit Hagenbeck for the sake of childhood memories…


I did have a wonderful time visiting family, especially spending so much one-on-one time with my Oma.  I simply must share something ridiculous with you now, as you will appreciate just how ridiculous this is from a zero-waste perspective.  We had asked for some smoked salmon at a deli, and not knowing what kind of waste was involved, we were presented with this crap: five slices of smoked salmon, separated by five sheets of plastic, wrapped in a plastic wrap, placed in a plastic container, with an added honey dill sauce in another plastic container.  I nearly fell over.  None of it recyclable, doomed to pollute our planet forever.


And this gem I found in a catalog that made me laugh, but also scratch my head.  This is an advertisement for men’s pajamas.  First of all, I think it is crap that they are encouraging the use of one-time-use to-go cups, but secondly… it doesn’t even make sense that he has one!  He’s in his pajamas, implying that he just got up.  Did he drive to the cafe in his pajamas and pick up a coffee?  Does he really think that that is more efficient than walking into his kitchen around the corner and brewing his own cup?  Oh, man.  Advertising at its finest.


Have you traveled to Hamburg or elsewhere in Germany?  What was your zero-waste experience like?  What options did you have?  Did you come prepared with your zero-waste kit or did you have to get creative?  I’d love to know your thoughts, or even recommendations!



  1. Haha, that ad is too funny, maybe he keeps disposable cups in his kitchen so he doesn’t have to wash dishes! I bet your Oma could teach us all a thing or two. Love the picture of the bear, looks like he is having fun running and smiling😊


    • Laziness at its prime! Thanks for reading and commenting. I love the bear too; he looks happy despite the fact his enclosure is far too small 😦 It’s a hate and love relationship with zoos; I hate that we have them caged to stare at, but at the same time I want to support the zoos to feed them and fulfill their other needs to live comfortably… bah! I’m much more happy with animal refuge parks, like if they have rescued abused animals from circuses or something. That’s my zoo rant.


      • I agree about the zoo also. I once, as a 30+ year old adult, opening cried like a kid at a zoo while watching a chimp in an enclosure that seemed very depressed and just mentally broken. It just broke my heart. There was probably many reasons for the poor creature to be that way. Maybe he was rescued from something far worst. I hope he was being well cared for. Circuses using animal should just be illegal! Sorry, I think I just joined in on your rant!


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