September 2009


Das Pfand

Growing up in Colorado, I had no exposure to “deposits”—that small sum of money that paid for each can or bottle of pop. I only encountered deposits when I headed east to visit my grandparents in New York.

For my Grandmother it was religion—making sure that cans and bottles were carefully tracked and then returned to the supermarket for the five-cent deposit.

That exposure helped prepare me for the German Pfand—that is, deposit.

However, I’m completely perplexed by some aspects of the system. The system deals with three kinds of bottles, which, as best I can tell, looks like this:

  • 25 cents for light plastic bottles. These run the gauntlet of brands: Coke, generic brands, cheep beer brands, and the like. Typically the machines that deal with these kinds of bottles tend to smash the bottle after taking the bottle.
  • 15 cents for heavy plastic bottles. These tend to be only mainstream brands—like Coke. I’m under the impression that these bottles are sent back to the bottler who wash the bottles and then reuse them.
  • 8 cents for glass beer bottles. This deposit is too small because drunks on the street are all too quick to drop the bottles or throw them around—however, eight cents is better than no cents.

Left out: wine bottles—those are taken to the glass recycling bins that dot town—brown, green, and white glass. I don’t quite understand why wine bottles are omitted from the deposit scheme.

Come to think of it hard liquor bottles have no deposit.

Nor do pickle jars.

9 comments to Das Pfand

  • Reko

    I will use “Pfand” in a sentence:

    Einigkeit und Recht und Freiheit
    sind des Glückes UnterPFAND
    Blüh im Glanze des Glückes
    blühe, deusches Vaterland!

    For the record:

  • Michele J

    I’m really curious about the economic efficiency of this system. Switzerland for instance has almost no plastic deposit bottles. The exact same 0.5 or 1 L coke bottles we return for deposit in DE are simply recycled (and I assume shredded and re-melted) in CH. I estimate compliance there at something like 90%, without deposit, but that is totally anecdotal and based on my in-laws. I must confess I briefly had this fantasy of exploiting a market niche by buying soda and water in Switzerland without the additional deposit and then returning the bottles in Germany for hard cash. Surely I’m not the first person to have thought of this though and I think they prevent it via markings on the bottle.

    Otherwise I only remember deposit bottles from my wild ‘n crazy childhood in California. Periodically my parents would let us take the empty bottles back to the supermarket and spend the profit on popsicles and tooth-rotting bubble gum, imagine. At least that’s how I remember it.

    Re: beer bottles vs. wine bottles / pickle jars: I think the beer bottles are thicker-walled and can thus be sterilized and reused? Their walls are thick enough to withstand repeated sterilization and fermentation, like Mason jars. Grocery store wine bottles, commercial pickle jars, commercial jam jars, etc. are too cheap to reuse and typically can’t withstand the heat of repeated heat processing? That’s what my homebrew friends in the US say anyway.

    Love the “Notable Comment” BTW.

  • Yogurt jars (Landliebe) have a Pfand too!

  • Dang, CN beat me to it on the yogurt tip. I also wanted to point out a 0,15€ Pfand on larger (0,75L I think) glass bottles (Coca-Cola, Bonaqua) — around here.

    I wish someone would explain to me why they don’t implement a Pfand on glass wine bottles.

  • Most juice bottles, plastic or glass, don’t have a deposit on them either, although I’m not sure about the stuff you buy by the case. It’s quite a bizarre system. When I moved here it hadn’t been introduced yet, and when they did, it was in a big hurry and there was absolutely no plan. Completely willy nilly except for the fact that you were supposed to take your stuff back to the exact same store you bought it at, WITH the receipt. Pfftt! You can guess how many people actually did that. I like the new system better, but still can’t quite get my brain around it.

  • Michele J – The economics must be fascinating–I believe that on its own, glass recycling is not economically viable in the United States–unless there is a system of deposits and returns–and even then, it’s questionable. There was an article in a recent Denver Post about Cheyenne, Wyoming, and its mountain of glass.

    CN – Ooooh… I don’t eat yogurt, so I missed that one. I wonder why yogurt gets a Pfand and juice bottles (see christina) do not.

    Cliff – I so rarely see glass cola bottles, that I plumb forgot about them! Now that you mention it, I recall once seeing small glass bottles of Coke, commemorating something, on sale, after the fact. The Pfand was more than the otherwise giveaway pricing.

    christina = with the receipt?! I bet that was an ungodly mess. The current system is pretty straightforward, just not as comprehensive as I would otherwise expect from Germans.

  • The receipt stuff was a real PITA. Netto used to require that until 2006 or so. Fortunately the new system allows you to scan the label for a barcode and return it to pretty much whomever, but the beverage wholesaler near us (tiny Tanta Emma Laden) still requires a receipt.

    Scanning the label upon return also means you can’t crush the one-way plastic bottles for better packing into your backpack on your way to/from work; you have to keep the shape of the bottle intact or else the machine won’t take your bottle back.