The current recycling laws, colloquially known as the Pfandsystem, came into force in 2003 and were modified again 3 years later. They regulate the sale and return of plastic and glass bottles, as well as aluminium cans.
How does the German Pfand system work for the Consumer?
The German Pfand system was brought into force to ensure that there was a responsible policy in place for the recycling of plastic bottles.
It came into being to encourage drinks companies to supply their product in multi-use, refillable plastic or glass bottles. These can be refilled up to 25 times for the plastic variety and up to 50 times for glass.
In doing so, this reduces the average CO2 emissions per bottle in circulation because fewer new bottles have to be manufactured. The process of washing and sterilising existing bottles is overwhelmingly more environmentally friendly in terms of CO2 output than the production of new, single-use bottles.
According to a recent Spiegel article, at the time the law came into force, 64% of all bottles purchased were refilled i.e. were multi-use bottles. At the end of 2012, this had reduced to 46%, with the trend heading downwards.
By early 2015, Coca Cola announced that it would over time phase out multi-use bottles in favour of one-time use, citing the high logistics costs of collecting the multi-use bottles and holding free storage space for them.
The nuts and bolts
Essentially, the German Pfand system is a cycle.
The drinks manufacturer fills his product, for example, beer or water, into these bottles. These bottles are sold to wholesalers or retailers.
The wholesaler or retailer pays a deposit to the producer.
This deposit is then passed on directly to the customer in the form of a surcharge. In the case of wholesalers, there is an extra step in the chain as he passes this on to individual retailers such as your local kiosk.
As end customers, we then pay this deposit, or Pfand, to the supermarket, kiosk, Getränkemarkt or whoever and we get it back when we return the bottles.
MULTI USE BOTTLES
Glass beer bottles of 0.33 or 0.5 litre of have a deposit of €0.08
Glass water bottles of 0.75 or 1 litre have a deposit of €0.15
Plastic multi-use bottles in all shapes have a deposit of €0.15
Standard beer crates have a deposit of €3.10 (if you return them with all 20 empties)
SINGLE USE BOTTLES & CANS
Single-use bottles, or Einwegflaschen, carry a deposit of €0.25.
Common examples are your cheap 6-pack of 1.5 litre mineral water bottles from your local supermarket. In many discount supermarkets, Coca Cola and Pepsi sell their products in 0.5 litre or 1.25 litre bottles which are single-use.
Drinks cans also carry a €0.25 deposit and are treated in the same way i.e. as single-use products.
So far, so good. So the Pfand laws are simple, right? And obviously the right thing to do?
Well, not it’s not quite so straightforward…
Is there a deposit on all plastic and glass?
Erm, no. This is another anomaly where the law is inconsistent.
Juice, milk, wine and spirits sold in glass or plastic bottles are not subjected to legally enforceable deposits under the German Pfand system.
There are also no deposits on plastic or glass packaging of foodstuffs, for example cooking and condiment sauces.
Paper-based drinks cartons are also excluded from the law, even though they are usually coated in plastic.