Trash Talk: The Ultimate Guide to Recycling in Copenhagen

So you’ve moved to Denmark, bought a bike, converted to organic milk and even made your own soy candles! But what about recycling? How can your environmental superiority complex find full expression without mastering this last hurdle?

At the beginning of 2014, Københavns Kommune finished its massive recycling project that provided recycling bins to all the neighbourhoods of Copenhagen (and living in the centre, I was the last to know). Hallelujah! This allowed us to actually recycle our plastics, paper and metal conveniently from our own apartment blocks, rather than having to visit the local recycling centre with a motorcade of bikes (cyclecade perhaps?).

For such a green city, Denmark has been a little slow on the recycling front, as policy favoured incineration for heat and energy rather than recycling. The city changed its tune in 2012 and access to recycling bins has improved ever since. It would be great if there was better access to recycling bins in public spaces, but all the same, Copenhagen’s latest undertaking is a step in the right direction.

Why recycle?

In theory, we all understand the importance of recycling. I could wax lyrical about how we live on a planet with finite materials, how recycling decreases pollution and reduces energy consumption for the production of new materials, etcetera etcetera.

Practically speaking, however, it isn’t that easy. Let’s face it: recycling can be really inconvenient. Also, knowing what you can recycle is really confusing, especially when you’re a foreigner. Ask your average Dane whether you can recycle a milk carton and he might just shrug!

The solution:
1. start by creating a home recycling system, and
2. know what you can recycle and develop rituals for making recycling easier

So how can you recycle like a pro?

Set up your recycling system

Crates from Aarstiderne, an organic farm located north of Copenhagen that delivers direct to your door, are perfect for creating your own recycling system. Simply collect them, stack and label. Done. Easy.

Alternatively, there are these from IKEA which would do the trick!

Having two bins in your office and bathroom is a great idea. Think about how many toilet paper rolls you’ve thrown out in your life! A combination of ‘Le Paper Bag’ and a Vipp bin works really well. Better yet, wouldn’t it be great if Vipp released a bin with a divider in it?

Vipp and Le sac en papier | Scandinavia Standard


Know what and where you can recycle

Once and for all, here’s an explanation of all those Danish recycling categories.



  • Boxes, packaging, corrugated cardboard, toilet paper rolls.
  • Place in the container labelled ‘PAP’ that is set up in most apartment blocks.
  • Cardboard can only be reused if it’s clean! Also, cardboard and paper have different properties and are processed separately, therefore, do not mix them together when you sort them.
⇢ Can you recycle pizza boxes?

No, because the cardboard needs to be clean in order to be recycled. This seems incredibly wasteful – surely we should start using baking paper or something? Or would that be a waste of more resources? These are the questions!

⇢ Can you recycle milk cartons and tetra packs?

Milk CartonUnfortunately, no! Tetra pack has a solid goal to make their packs recyclable by 2020. Really? Isn’t that 20 years away? No, it’s actually pretty soon, people. So that’s good news!



  • Newspapers, magazines, junk mail, envelopes, phone books, office paper, gift wrapping paper, books, printed matter and writing paper.
  • Place in the container labelled ‘PAPIR’ that is set up in most apartment blocks.
  • Plastic film and staples needs to be removed – doing this increases the chance that it will actually be recycled.
⇢ What about staples?

These will be removed in the recycling process, but removed them where possible!

⇢ What about plastic windows on envelopes?

Like staples, these will be removed in the recycling process, it’s no biggie.




  • All types of empty glasses and bottles that aren’t covered by the PANT (money-back) scheme – such as wine and spirits bottles, glass from foods, broken glass, drinking glasses and glass jars.
  • Place in one of the municipality’s glass containers, which are on streets all across Copenhagen. Find your nearest one here.
⇢ Can I leave the lid on?

You sure can, and it will also be recycled.

⇢ Do I need to take off the label?

There’s no need, but it’s a good idea to clean jars out first.

⇢ Can I recycle plates, mugs, ceramics or crystal?

Mugs, plates and other ceramics cannot be melted together with ordinary glass. Small pieces of ceramics must be thrown out of your ordinary rubbish. Larger quantities should be delivered to a recycling centre separately. Crystal glass must not be melted down and recycled with ordinary glass because it contains lead.




  • Waste, milk cartons, pizza trays, ordinary light bulbs, diapers, hygiene waste, styrofoam and messy paper or cardboard (pizza boxes).
  • If you put your mind to it, you can dramatically reduce this category – that is the aim after all!
  • FYI: this rubbish will be taken to an incineration plant and used to produce heat and electricity.




  • Wires and cables, any electric device with a power cord, batteries or solar panel. e.g., computers, stereos, microwave ovens, cell phones or battery operated toys.
  • Place in the container labelled ‘ELEKTRONIK’ that is set up in most apartment blocks.
  • Large electronics waste must be delivered to a recycling centre separately.




  Hard plastic
  • Bottles, containers and canisters from fluid cleaning and laundry detergent, milk crates, empty CD cases, plastic plates, lunch boxes, dish tubs/trays and plastic containers for storage of food and plastic toys.
  • Place in the container labelled ‘HÅRD PLASTIK’ that is set up in most apartment blocks.
  • Everything has to be free of food particles – wash it!
  • Plastic is one of the most important things to recycle, because so much oil is used in the production of new plastics. In addition, CO2 emissions can be reduced dramatically by removing plastics from your general rubbish, thus avoiding the incineration plant and going up in smoke.
⇢ Can you recycle the plastic at the bottom of fruit, vegetable and meat packets?

You can, but there’s a high chance that the automatic machines won’t process them. København Kommune is working on improving the process at the moment. All the same, go ahead, just make sure you clean them and take off all the plastic film.




  • Pots, pans, utensils, cans, nails, toys and non-electronic tools.
  • Place in the container labelled ‘METAL’ that is set up in most apartment blocks.
  • You can even recycle aluminium from food (i.e. leverpostej, if that’s what you’re into), just make sure it’s clean!




  Dangerous materials
  • For example, turpentine, paint and chemicals, medicine residues, mercury thermometers and batteries.
  • Not all properties have a container labelled ‘FARLIGT AFFALD’, but some do. If you don’t have one, you need to visit your local recycling centre. Most apartment blocks have a battery container for used batteries.


  • You can now composte in Copenhagen! This includes food, eggs shells, tea bags (remove the tag and staple!) and other biodegradable material like cat hair.
  • You can get a composite container and biodegradable bags for your home or apartment here. When you run out of bags, just reorder from the Kommune; they cost 150 DKK for four rolls of bags


Get Money Back with the Danish Return System

In Denmark, you received your money back (‘pant’) when you return ‘pant-labelled’ bottles to the supermarkets and ‘pant stations’.

  • Glass bottles 0.5 litres or under = 1.00 kr
  • Glass bottles more than 0.5 litres = 3.00 kr
  • Plastic bottles less than 1 litre = 1.50 kr
  • Plastic bottles 1 litre and over = 3.00 kr


Do this consistently; now you’re a recycling pro!

Yeah. (Pat on the back.)

A big thanks goes to Københavns Kommune for being so helpful with supplying information!