YOUR ULTIMATE GUIDE TO THE GERMAN PFAND BOTTLE SYSTEM
Wanna know the secret behind how Germans can tell which bottles are returnable for Pfand and which ones aren’t?
They haul the entire mound of empties they have accumulated in their house over the past six months to Kaufland at ten am on a Saturday, wait in line for 37 minutes, and then jostle them into the machine, one by one, hoping for the best.
Whichever one gets burped back up is not a Pfand bottle – or at least can’t be returned at that specific store.
Is there a better way to tell which ones are returnable? Sure. But that would take the thrill out of everybody’s Saturday mornings now, wouldn’t it?
Want your life to be less nerve-racking? Fine – read on to learn how to maneuver the German Pfand bottle system. Party pooper.
PFAND OR NOT PFAND?
I would love to show you a list of the labels marking bottles as returnable for Pfand, but due to licensing rules, unfortunately, I can’t. I know it’s inconvenient, but please click on the links I’m providing, to see what those labels look like:
- Blauer Engel (writing with white and blue circle featuring an angel in the middle)
- Für die Umwelt (Mehrweg) (writing with blue and green circle on white)
- DPG Zeichen (bottle and soda can with an arrow – usually in gray)
Alternatively, you may find the following words printed on returnable bottles:
- Einwegpfand 0,25 Euro
As easy as stealing candy from a baby, right? But wait, it gets even more accessible:
Some bottles may be exempt from Pfand rules. Those include fruit juices, dairy products, wine, and liquor, in addition to any bottle that can fit more than three liters.
WHERE DO I RETURN MY EMPTIES?
Grocery and beverage stores have machines that you can pop your bottles in, one by one. In the end, it’ll print a receipt stating the full amount of Pfand the store owes you.
Retailers are required to take back any kind of bottle they offer for sale. A lot of times, they will accept other ones too, but they don’t have to.
If in doubt, just try it out. Worst case, the machine will spit your bottle back at you.
SO NOW WHERE’S MY DOUGH?
Have the cashier scan your receipt and you’ll get the money back or have it deducted from your total. Note that you don’t even need to buy anything for this!
If you’re worried about adding yet another task to the already hasty checkout experience, make sure to read my Eight Essential Tricks To Master Any German Grocery Checkout Process, for some helpful tips on how to keep up with any cashier’s breakneck speed.
HOW MUCH MONEY DO YOU GET BACK?
Reusable glass beer bottle (all sizes): eight Cents
Reusable swing top beer bottle: 15 Cents
Reusable water bottle (glass or PET): 15 Cents (sometimes 25)
Reusable bottles for juices or sodas: 15 Cents
Some reusable one-liter wine bottles: two or three Cents
All single-use bottles and cans: 25 Cents
HOW TO DISPOSE OF NON-PFAND BOTTLES?
Plastic bottles go into your recycling.
Haul any glass bottles to the closest Altglascontainer – the big green, brown, and white bins that are dotted all over the city. There’s one for each color of bottle you might come across, so sort them accordingly.
Tip for the summer: mind the yellowjackets that may well come shooting out of the bin charging at you as soon as you drop something in.
There are times stated during which the use of those containers is permitted. Many Germans take that rare opportunity to give way to their inner rebel – the same fella who made them jaywalk once at 4 am, 27 years ago – and dump in their bottles after hours.
However, as someone who used to live right next to an Altglascontainer in my first apartment, the one where I accidentally created Satan’s Sauna, I urge you to please stick to the rules here. Picture waking up to some stranger shattering your bedroom window 17 times in a row at 2.48 am. Exactly.
CAN’T I JUST THROW THEM INTO THE TRASH?
Have you ever wondered why some of the homeless people in Germany fish around in public garbage bins? They are looking for Pfand bottles they can return to make a few extra bucks.
If you have an empty bottle you don’t want to hold on to while out and about, always place it next to a public trash can instead of inside. Some cities even install bottle holders to the bins. That way, people who gather Pfand bottles (=Flaschensammler) don’t have to comb through the garbage to pluck them out.