My Istrian Recycling Saga

A simple trip to the bottle bank becomes an epic journey, but along the way I discover how rubbish recycling works in my small corner of Istria.

Box with some of my bottles for recycling in Istria“I’m going to the recycling bins on the way to the shops,” I said, eyeing up the overflowing box of bottles and cans threatening to take over our terrace. This simple sentence, which we’ve all said time and again, hid a big secret: I’d never tried to recycle in Croatia before. Until then, Snježana’s father had taken any of my bottles and cans I thought could be recycled, with others I wasn’t sure about simply being thrown away.

Honest, I wasn’t taking advantage of an old man! Most glass and plastic drinks bottles – and aluminium drinks cans – sold in Croatia have a small deposit on them, which he collects when he returns them for recycling (he also returns bottles for several restaurants). We’ve been recycling by proxy this way for years, but with Snježana’s Dad slowly getting older and older, his recycling trips have been getting fewer and fewer. With the arrival of new recycling bins a few miles away, I decided it was time I took over my own rubbish disposal: the box of bottles and cans was coming with me.


Wrong bin …

Right from the start, things didn’t go to plan. The recycling bins are in a small car park opposite the shop, in our next-door village. I’d planned to pull in next to them, pop my glass bottles in the bottle bank, my cans and plastic bottles in the relevant bin and then shoot off into town for my shopping – simple. 

Grabbing two bags from the boot, I went in search of the bottle bank … only to find there wasn’t one! There were two green bins, seemingly for ordinary rubbish: a blue one, for paper; and a yellow one, for tin cans and plastic bottles – but not one dedicated to glass bottles.

4 wheelie bins for rubbish in IstriaOf these, the yellow bin seemed the most promising, so I had a quick peek inside to see if it would do. While it was clear the locals hadn’t really caught onto the idea of sorted recycling, it was also clear it wasn’t the place for glass bottles. But it did seem to be the place for beer cans and plastic bottles, so I added mine. I then toyed with the idea of throwing in my glass bottles as well, just to get rid of them, but only for a second. I was meant to be recycling, not dumping! Feeling somewhat foolish and hoping no-one was watching, I put my glass bottles back in their bags and went back to the car. My trip had hardly been a success.

Rather down-hearted, I was all set to take them home and abandon the project, when a light-bulb flashed in my brain: if I couldn’t drop glass bottles off here, perhaps I could do it at Konzum, the supermarket I was going to anyway. Just last week, I’d spotted a bottle return machine at the back of the shop. Enthusiasm for my project rekindled, I set off for town.


… wrong bottles

Arriving at Konzum, I began to have doubts: I’d never seen anyone here with a trolley-load of empty bottles, and the return point was small and kind of hidden. A sensible person would have abandoned the project at this stage (that would be me – P), but returning these bottles had now become a point of honour. They were not coming home with me: they were going to be recycled! 

Trying to look inconspicuous, I loaded my box and bags of bottles into my shopping trolley, marched the length of the car park and through the supermarket to the Returns Point. The looks I got reinforced my suspicion that this probably wasn’t a good idea. Ignoring them, I persevered, only to find the machine out of order, surrounded by mountains of empty beer bottles and crates. What to do? I’d felt foolish enough rolling a trolley-load of empties through a supermarket; I’d feel a complete dork taking them back out again! I was determined Konzum would provide a solution, but how?

My logic was simple, if shaky. This was a recycling point I reasoned, so even if the machine was out of action, I could leave my bottles here. Deciding to ditch my load and do a runner, I started unloading.

“Can I help you?”A shop assistant materialised at my elbow, seemingly out of thin air.

“Just returning bottles,” I replied hopefully; guiltily waving an empty wine bottle.

“You can’t return those here,” he said. “We only take beer bottles with deposits.” I’d suspected as much: I hadn’t seen a wine bottle in the pile. We rootled through my box and extracted a half dozen bottles.

“Wait a minute,’ he said, “I’ll give you a receipt for those. You can take it to the check-out for your refund.” He disappeared and I eyed over the pile, debating off-loading and scarpering. No, I wouldn’t have time and, anyway, I was trying to find out where to recycle, not abandon. I could do that in my bin at home.

‘Keep with it, you’re making progress,’ I told myself: beer cans and plastic bottles into the yellow wheelie bin and beer bottles off-loaded at Konzum, my mountain was getting smaller: but what to do with the wine and spirit bottles? “You can take those to Kaufland (another supermarket),” he said returning with a hand-written note. “They have a collection point there.”

Chitty in-hand, shopping piled on top of my empties, I went through check-out, trying to act as if having a box of empty bottles at the bottom of your shopping trolley was a perfectly normal thing.

“Where’s your original receipt?” the check-out girl asked, and was most concerned when I couldn’t produce it. Konzum, it seems, will only pay refunds on bottles they’ve sold and you need the proof. And if I’d looked, this is clearly written – in several languages – on signs hung near the check-outs! Abandoning the princely sum of 6 kn (less than either a £1 or €1), I escaped, just glad to have shed part of my load and to know where to go next – Kaufland.


Pay dirt!

The bottle collection point at Kaufland is at the back of their car park, in a little hut. It’s got a big sign outside saying ‘Prihvat ambalaže’, which literally means ‘Acceptance of Packaging’. I even got a parking space close by. Obviously not next to it, that would have been just too convenient, but near enough I didn’t need a trolley. Lugging my heavy box across the car park, I just hoped I hadn’t been sold a line in Konzum by a shop assistant trying to get rid of me, and I really would be able to off-load the remains of my hoard. 

Kaufland's bottle collection point in IstriaInside the hut, next to a small office, were three large pens holding plastic drinks bottles, beer cans and wine bottles. At last, it seems I’d found the right place. “Can I …?” I asked the guy who popped out of the office. Nodding, he started pulling bottles from my box and tossing them into a bin bag held by his mate. As I stood watching, I eyed over information in multiple languages attached to the wall. It seems every drinks bottle or can bought in Croatia is worth 0.5 kn, but would I get it? Being a foreigner, who didn’t know her way around, I had my doubts.

Box unloaded, the guys disappeared into their office and I waited. Nothing seemed to be coming, so I turned to go, just glad to see the back of my bottles.

“Gospodja!” I turned and a receipt for 10 kn was thrust into my hand – Bonus! But what to do with it? Ice-cream, I decided and went shopping.

Of course, it wasn’t that simple. “You can’t use that,” said the check-out lady, when I handed over my chitty with my ice-cream. “You have to take it to the Information desk. Do you still want your ice-cream?” Of course I did!

Finally, I reached the last stage of my recycling saga. I presented my receipt at the Information desk and walked out of Kaufland with a 10 kn note in my hand. My perseverance had paid off! Not only did I now know where to bring my empties, I even got an ice-cream for my efforts.


What I should have done

After a little more research, this is my best understanding of how recycling works in Croatia – at least in the Porec area. I’d like to hope it’s the same Croatia-wide, but…


Blue, yellow and green wheelie bins

You’ll find strategically placed green, blue and yellow wheelie bins, like the ones I found outside my local shop. According to the Porec Council, they are for the following:


  • Yes: Newspaper, office paper, magazines, catalogues, brochures, notebooks, wrapping.
  • No: Composite packaging (tetrapaks), plasticised / metallised and oiled paper, photos.


  • Yes: Packaging of detergents, shampoo, plastic beverage bottles and food products (oil, milk etc.), tins, cans, cartons (tetrapak)
  • No: Plastic packaging, chemicals, sprays, paint, plastic toys.


  • Yes: Glass bottles, food jars (all colours)
  • No: Window, medical and automotive glass, lamps, crystal, porcelain and mirrors

So this is the best way to get rid of most tin cans, paper and other waste that can be re-cycled – except bottles. Any bottle with ‘POVRATNA NAKNADA 0,50kn’ (refunds 0,50 kn) printed on the side can be returned for a refund (see below). This is what I should have done with my old drink cans and plastic bottles, instead of simply throwing them in the Yellow wheelie bin.


Supermarket bottle/can recycling

In the Porec area, Kaufland and Lidl have bottle & can collection points.

  • They take all drinks bottles (glass and plastic) and cans, While you can drop off any bottles or drinks cans, you will only get a refund on those bought in Croatia. The refund is 0.5 kn per item.
  • Cans and plastic bottles must be kept whole.
  • They will give you a receipt which you cash in at the Information desk.

Some Croatian glass beer bottles, like Tomislav, have a 1 kn deposit on them. If you want the full refund, these must be taken back to the supermarket where they were bought, along with the original receipt. (You can of course do this with any beer bottle which has a deposit – this was the process the shop assistant thought I was trying to do in Konzum).



Many places, including post offices and most supermarkets, have boxes where you can deposit old batteries.


Big rubbish

Large items like old electrical equipment or plastic garden furniture should be taken to the local dump. In our area, scrap-metal men (a group of gypsies) also tour the area collecting any old items, which they can sell for scrap … principally metal, but they’ll also take old TVs, radiators, fridges, etc. Anything else, I’m afraid, is up to you. 

If you know any more about Croatian recycling, please let me know and I’ll update this article. (Please use my contact page – I keep getting automated spam when I use the comments function)


My vow for the future

Now I know what to do, far more of my rubbish will be going for recycling. And I’m going to make sure everything goes in the right place. Instead of dumping my cans and plastic bottles in the yellow wheelie bin, they’re off to the supermarket with my glass bottles for their refund… and my next ice-cream reward!


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