Many people who are new to Germany may wonder why rummaging through the rubbish bins in the local train or bus station seems to be such a popular habit. The answer is simple – many plastic and glass bottles have a deposit on them.
Bottle deposits died out in the UK years ago when plastic took over from glass as the material of choice for beverage Containers. However, Germany being ever conscious of its obligations to Mother Earth requires us to pay “Pfand” on pretty much every drinks bottle, be they plastic or glass and apparently some cans also.
For some time I was blissfully ignorant of this, chucking my empty containers straight into the bin before discovering that I could actually get Money back on them by either returning them to the shop and asking for “Pfand zurück”, or alternatively using the machines available in many supermarkets which give you a voucher in return for use in the shop, as being demonstrated by my son here:
Bottles which have a refundable deposit can usually be identified by words such as “Pfandflasche” marked on them, or the following symbol is often used:
Bottles marked “Pfandfrei” have no deposit, but all the same should be put in the correct bin for recycling. Sadly, wine bottles don’t seem to have deposits on them which is a shame as I would be a lot richer now if they did!
Personally speaking though, rather than take pity on those rummaging through the bins in the hope of finding a few returnable bottles, admire the fact that not only are they ensuring the containers get recycled as intended, they are also not afraid of getting their hands dirty to earn a few quid.