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How does the Pfand-System work in Germany?

Did you ever wonder why you needed to pay more for a bottle of water than it says on the price tag? Welcome to the German Pfand-System!


Pfand means deposit in German.

The Pfand-System refers to a whole bottle and can recycling system.


In this article you will learn

  • what "Pfand" is about

  • the different types of packaging that require Pfand and how to recognize them

  • the new Pfand-rules of 2022: when and how much do you have to pay?

  • how to return empty bottles

  • Future changes in the Pfand-system


Why is there a Pfand-system?


The idea is simple:

when you buy certain bottles or cans you will pay a deposit on top of the product price. Once you return the empty bottle, you are refunded the deposit and the bottle gets reused or recycled instead of just being thrown away.



How do I know the amount of Pfand I have to pay?


If you have close look at the price tag on the shelf or in a flyer, you will find the Pfand listed separately:

Price tag for a drink with Pfand


UVP = Unverbindliche Preisempfehlung – retail price

zzgl. = zuzüglich - plus




But you can also tell the amount (or at least the approximate amount) from the type of packaging.


The Pfand applies to 3 types of packaging:

  • Einwegflaschen

Single use plastic bottles you can recognize from the DPG-Logo:





  • Mehrwegflaschen Reusable bottles, either made of glass or Pet Plastic., Jars of yogurt and milk bottles are treated the same way if they’re made of glass.

DPG-Logo

  • Getränkedosen Beverage cans




The new rules for Pfand (from January 1st, 2022)


Einwegflaschen

A deposit will be levied on all single-use plastic bottles with a capacity of up to three litres.

This means that you don’t need to worry about most of the former exceptions (like for fruit juices) anymore … but it also means that you can’t “escape” the Pfand anymore by simply buying a slightly different drink.

The deposit is always 25 Cent.


But … of course there is no rule without exception after all:

Drinks containing milk are still exempt from the regulation.



Mehrwegflaschen

This is a bit more complicated as there is no single regulation that applies to all of those bottles.

Sometimes you'll find the amount of Pfand the bottle.


The usual deposit is between 8 and 15 Cents.

For example:

• Water bottle (glass or PET): 15 Cent Pfand

• Bottle for juice or softdrinks: (PET) 15 Cent Pfand

• Beer bottle (glass): 8 Cent Pfand

• Beer bottle with clip closure (glass) 15 Cent Pfand

Beer bottle with clip closure

• Milk bottle (glass) 15 Cent Pfand

• Yogurt jar (glass) 15 Cent Pfand




Getränkedosen

The deposit of 25 Cent also applies to beverage cans without exception.



Bottles and cans that are already in circulation


If you happen NOT to be charged any deposit for a bottle of juice or can with an Energy Drink before July 1, 2022, it’s not necessarily a mistake: for a transitional period there is no deposit on bottles and cans that were previously exempt of the Pfand-regulation and are already in circulation.



More details on Pfand


Germans love to buy their beer, water and softdrinks in a crate (die Kiste or der Kasten). The deposit depends on the size and is usually around 3 Euros.

A crate of beer


If you prefer drinking your beer from a barrel instead of a bottle, you might also have to pay a deposit:

  • The 5 litre barrel does not cost a deposit.

  • Up to 30 litres it is usually 25 Euros.

  • From 30 litres there is a deposit of 30 Euros.



How do I return empty bottles?


Obviously, you will only get your deposit back if you’ve paid it in the first place. That means that e.g. you can’t return any bottles you’ve bought abroad. (They need to go into the yellow sack.) Therefore, you should take care that the label is still visible.


These are the places you can go to:


Supermarkets

Most Supermarkets have bottle return machines (der Pfandautomat). You can find it either at the entrance, at the back of the store or in a separate area of the building.

Most of these machines only accept single use bottles and Getränkedosen.


The bottles or cans must not be crushed, otherwise the machines can’t handle them.


You will receive a coupon with your deposit’s value which you can redeem at the cash register. The coupon is valid for three years – but the printing might fade over time or when it’s hot, so you’d better use it soon.


If there is no machine in a supermarket you should be able to return the bottles at the cash register.



Kiosks

Shopping, sightseeing or chilling in a park can be thirsty work! If you buy a bottle at a kiosk, you can return it at any other kiosk selling the same drinks.


Beverage stores (der Getränkemarkt)

Of course, you can return all empty bottles at the beverage stores.



Will there be more changes in the future?


More future changes have already been decided on.


From 2023

Restaurants, bistros and cafés that offer to-go drinks and take-away food will have to offer their products in reusable packaging.


From 2024

Regardless of the content, a deposit of 25 cents must be paid on all non-returnable plastic beverage bottles and beverage cans. This means that the deposit will also apply to the packaging of dairy products.


From 2025

PET non-returnable beverage bottles must contain at least 25 percent recycled plastic and the price of returnable bottles can generally be increased by a few cents.



 

Hopefully understanding how the Pfand system in Germany works has become a lot easier for you now!

You can definitely save a lot of money if you return your empty bottles.

Final tip:

If you drink water, you can easily save yourself from carrying the bottles back and forth:

Tap water in Germany is of really great quality: It is actually the most strictly controlled food in Germany! There are significantly more regulations for tap water than for mineral water, such as limit values for pesticides and uranium.

And of course it’s also much better for the environment.


 

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