Through this column, I share with you my approach to adopting green habits and a sustainable lifestyle by taking small steps.

This time, let’s look at the fourth of the 5 Rs (Refuse, Reduce, Reuse, Recycle and Rot) and how we can recycle smarter – especially in Denmark.

I hope this column will help new expats in Copenhagen understand the recycling system here and how we can be part of the solution to the waste problem.

Why recycle?
Recycling helps us move from a linear economy to a circular economy. A linear economy is when raw materials are used in production and after the end product is used, they are discarded as waste.

In a circular economy, materials after their use are recycled to be used again as raw materials for production. Recycling is amazing here, as many materials like glass and aluminum can be recycled almost infinitely, to produce new glasses and cans, instead of depleting supplies of virgin materials.

In addition, recycling prevents waste from being discarded in nature or valuable recyclable materials from being burned, and involves a reduction in energy consumption, CO2 emissions and waste water, compared to production using virgin materials.

You are in the right place !
For starters, we are fortunate to live in a country where there are systems in place for effective recycling. I have to mention this because unlike many other low waste practices, there is a limit to what we can do as individuals with recycling.

Recycling requires systematic collection of sorted waste, recycling facilities where materials are melted down so that new products can be made from them, and a well-established and profitable take-back market.

And there are many ways Denmark makes it easy for us (see sidebar).


Recycle smarter!
There are few habits that we can form as individuals to help the system recycle better.

First, understand the different waste fractions (classifications) and find out which bins you should put your recyclables in, which should be cleaned and which should be separated (according to council advice).

Set up a dedicated waste sorting system at home. This may require a lot of small bins and also some initiative. At home, we collect all our little pieces of foil, so they don’t get lost along the way, but end up being recycled (yes, smash those foil Easter egg covers together).

Check the labels as most explain how to dispose responsibly. A good example are crisps/crisps packets, which clearly indicate whether the packet should be sorted as plastic or residual waste.

Let’s try to better understand recycling systems in order to be part of the solution.

Check out the @greenbyhabit guides on Instagram for short videos and fun reels discussing these topics in detail and more about what can be recycled and what can’t.

Facilitate recycling

Education – most municipalities (kommunes) are good at educating people about the different fractions of waste to be sorted. Go to your municipality’s website and search for “affaldssortering”. You can even download or print guides.

Genbrugs station – large waste (say a large piece of concrete or ceramic from the toilet) can be dropped off at recycling stations. You can even drive.

Exchange stations – did you know that some municipalities have “Byttestation” – exchange stations where you can simply walk in with the things you want to exchange (like furniture, toys, etc.) and pick up new ones? See ‘kbh.deler’.

Deposit system – I hope you are familiar with the Danish return system. When you buy bottles or cans with the pants sign, you pay a small extra as a deposit, which you get back when you return the empty container. It’s a great way to ensure that the packaging that leaves the system comes back and that we close the loop. In 2021, the return rate of the system was 92%, which is one of the highest in the world.