Colourful bubblegum waste collected, Smart City Berlin

Credit: Marc Newberry on Unsplash

Reusing and Preventing Waste: Zero Waste in Berlin

From the Environment Festival to the Reuse Superstore – the Smart City Berlin has an active zero waste scene. The Berlin Senate supports and promotes approaches like the above as part of the Zero Waste Strategy resolved in 2020. While the projects and initiatives focus on reusing and preventing waste, they primarily aim to strengthen awareness for sustainability and the willingness to reuse goods. Recently published: a guide to resource-saving planning of new and existing urban neighborhoods. After all, a particularly large amount of waste is generated during the construction and demolition of buildings.

Buy, use, toss. In light of climate change, environmental pollution and a global scarcity of resources, consumption that is aimed at replacing products quickly is increasingly coming under attack. On the other hand, reuse is experiencing a rising trend, as it promotes sustainability and the extension of a product’s life cycle through sharing, repairing and upcycling. The idea behind this is to prevent waste, with the long-term goal being zero waste, in other words: a closed material cycle. The Smart City Berlin has assumed a pioneering role with regard to zero waste, as is demonstrated by a range of events held in the city. One of these is the Zero Waste Berlin Festival, at which dedicated citizens, environmentalists and entrepreneurs came together at the Malzfabrik in Berlin in mid-September to drive Berlin’s development towards a green economy and society to get as close as possible to the goal of becoming a zero-waste city. 

The capital’s zero-waste scene is a dedicated, closely connected and active one. The Zero Waste blog run by BUND Berlin, the Berlin chapter of the German Association for the Environment and Nature Conservation (Bund für Umwelt und Naturschutz Deutschland), described it as “much larger and more diverse than you might think at first glance.” The blog continues, “Besides active members from a broad, civil-societal base, more and more start-ups have joined the scene, as have reasonably established companies.” At, BUND Berlin provides a broad overview of projects and initiatives (German only).

Berlin’s Zero Waste Strategy

But the Berlin scene isn’t alone in its efforts to boost neighbourhood initiatives, green start-ups, zero waste restaurants and packaging-free supermarkets – the state of Berlin also pursues a targeted Zero Waste Strategy, which is at the core of the 2020-2030 waste management concept as agreed with the state of Brandenburg and passed by the Berlin Senate in March 2020. The Berlin Zero Waste Principle depicted therein pursues the following approach: to ensure no waste occurs in the first place – by making sure products have long life cycles; excluding pollutants from the circuit; creating new business models that expand the principle of a closed recycling economy; as well as reusing and recycling. To quote the concept: “With its Zero Waste Strategy, the State of Berlin pursues the goal of advancing existing waste management to create a modern and closed recycling economy.” 

Zero Waste urban quarters

A "future-oriented material flow management" is part of this strategy. In January 2022, the Senate Department for the Environment, Urban Mobility, Consumer Protection and Climate Action published a "Guideline for the Resource-Efficient Design of New and Existing Urban Neighborhoods Based on the Zero Waste Strategy of the State of Berlin". This is because the construction and demolition of buildings generates by far the most waste mass flow. Demolition concrete alone accounts for around one million tons per year in Berlin. And the production of building materials and components also consumes energy and natural resources. In its zero waste approach, the guide therefore focuses primarily on the issue of resource efficiency. It is intended to serve as a planning aid for neighborhood developers, planners and architects in particular.

Download the "Leitfaden zur ressourcenschonenden Gestaltung neuer und bestehender Stadtquartiere“ ("Guidline to resource-efficient design of new and existing urban neighborhoods" ) here. (Geman only)

Shop, share, repair – Berlin’s "Future Centres"

The Reuse project is just one of the measures to prevent and reuse residential waste, construction waste and sewage sludge that have been derived from the concept. Started by the Senate Department for the Environment, Traffic and Climate Protection, the initiative aims to motivate more Berliners to reuse second-hand goods. Besides conferences and events held alongside local initiatives, idea competitions such as the food rescue ideas competition, analogue collection boxes and digital recycling guides, the Reuse initiative aims to create three to four Future Centres (Zentren der Zukunft) in the medium term. Three of these already exist.

  • Living Lab for the Reuse of Products – the Reuse Centre at the Haus der Materialisierung (Alexanderplatz)

    The Reuse Centre for the Climate-friendly Use of Resources is the most recent of Berlin’s reuse centres. Located at the Haus der Materialisierung (House of Materialisation), the centre is part of the Haus der Statistik (House of Statistics) at the Alexanderplatz. The living lab for sharing, reusing, repairing and upcycling was opened in early June 2021 and systematically records and evaluates the practical realisation of the reuse of materials. The centre offers its visitors workshops, markets, opportunities to repair products with others, sharing options and a showroom for high-quality, upcycled design items. The project particularly aims to address and provide information to the neighbouring residential districts in Berlin-Mitte. The Reuse Centre for the Climate-friendly Use of Resources is financed through the Berlin Energy and Climate Protection Programme, BEK) (link only available in German) as well as Koop5 (link only available in German).
    Opening hours: Tuesdays, Wednesdays, Thursdays from 3 to 7 p.m.

  • Kaufhaus der Zukunft: The Department Store of the Future – a reuse superstore (Karstadt branch Hermannplatz)

    Berlin’s first second-hand store within a department store was opened in autumn 2020. After a seven-month interruption due to the coronavirus pandemic, the store has welcomed second-hand shoppers back to browse its wares since mid-June 2021. Spread out across around 650 square metres, the sales area on the third floor of the renowned department store at the Hermannplatz offers used products that are in good condition, among them decorative items and household goods; refurbished smartphones and laptops; and high-quality, second-hand clothes and vintage furniture. Berlin upcycling designers offer their products at pop-up market stalls; the Department Store of the Future also plans to soon host workshops and panels.

    Opening hours: Mondays to Saturdays from 10 a.m. to 8 p.m. (until summer 2022 at present)

  • Anything but new – NochMall, the BSR department store for second-hand goods (Reinickendorf)

    The third and at the same time oldest of the Berlin reuse centres is NochMall in Berlin-Reinickendorf, whose name is a play on words: “nochmal” means “again” in German.  The department store for second-hand goods has been run by BSR, the Berlin sanitation department, since summer 2020. Spread out across more than 2,000 square metres, the store offers furniture, clothes, electrical devices, household goods, toys, books and a range of other items at reasonable prices. Items destined for sale are collected at three BSR recycling depots in Zehlendorf, Reinickendorf and Neukölln; customers can also hand-in used goods directly to the NochMall store. The department store does not see itself as a mere second-hand store but rather as a place where customers can experience the recycling economy and waste prevention first hand. As such, initiatives and companies present their sustainable products at pop-up stores, while NochMall itself hosts a repair café, upcycling workshops and other events that focus on sustainability and the reuse of goods.

    Opening hours: Mondays to Saturdays from 10 a.m. to 6 p.m., Thursdays 10 a.m. to 8 p.m.

Changing the way we think about the little things

Zero waste does not mean Berlin will stop generating waste altogether in the near future – something the Berlin Senate is well aware of, despite the successful introduction of the campaign plan and the pilot projects mentioned above. The Zero Waste Principle “does not assume that we will stop generating waste altogether: however, it does aim to increasingly reduce waste in an ongoing process”, as stated in the “Abfallwirtschaftsgesetz, 2020–2030“ (2020-2030 Waste Management Act). The process focuses on quantitative targets as well as on qualitative aspects that include the prevention of pollutants and climate protection. And it also focuses on raising awareness in Berlin’s “Kieze”, its neighbourhoods, to help people understand that reusing second-hand items creatively contributes to closing material cycles in the city and conserving resources; in turn allowing each and every one of us to do our part to protect the climate. And if we happen to find a hidden treasure as we browse the shelves for useful second-hand products – all the better!  

Further information