In Germany, there is a bottle return system. When you buy certain products, you pay a deposit (Pfand) for the container. When you return the empty container, you get your deposit back. The empty bottles are recycled or reused.
The Pfand system is a big part of sorting your trash in Germany. This guide explains how it works.
How much is the deposit?
The deposit is between 8 and 25 cents. It depends on the type of container.1
Bottle crates (Bierkasten) also have a deposit between 0,75€ and 1,50€. 7
Which bottles have a Pfand?
Bottles with a deposit
These bottles have a deposit.1 You can return them at any store that sells them, and you will get some money back.
- Beer bottles – 0.08€ (0.15€ for resealable bottles)
- Aluminium cans – 0.25€
- Single-use (Einweg) plastic bottles – 0.25€
- Multiple-use (Mehrweg) glass and plastic bottles – 0.08€ to 0.15€2
- Landliebe yoghurt containers
- Some wine bottles – 0.03€
Bottles with no deposit
These bottles can still be recycled, but they don’t have a deposit.
- Milk cartons and bottles – They go in the yellow recycling bin
- Most wine bottles – They go in the glass recycling bins
- Containers with the Grüne Punkt logo3 – They go in the yellow recycling bin
- Bottles purchased in other countries
Bottle crates with a deposit
Bottle crates also have a deposit. It’s usually 1,50€. You can return bottle crates where you return bottles. Bottle return machines (Pfandautomaten) have a hole at the bottom for bottle crates.
How to identify Pfand bottles
If you see one of these symbols on a container, it has a deposit.4
If you see these words on the label or on the container, it has a deposit.
Deposit: “Mehrweg”, “Pfand-Glas”, “Mehrwegflasche”
No deposit: “Pfandfrei”, “Ohne Pfand”
Einweg and Mehrweg
There are two types of containers with a deposit:
- Single-use (Einweg)
The container is destroyed, and the materials are recycled.
- Multiple-use (Mehrweg)
The container is cleaned and reused. For example, beer bottles are multiple-use.
Where to return bottles in Germany?
If a business sells Pfand containers, it must accept Pfand returns. It must not accept container types it doesn’t sell. For example, Aldi and Lidl only sell single-use (Einweg) bottles, so they don’t accept multiple use (Mehrweg) bottles.5 If a store is larger than 200 m², it must accept containers from all brands, not just the brands it sells.
- Supermarkets: look for a bottle return machine (Pfandautomat). They look like this. They are near the entrance, or at the back of the store. The machine will print a coupon. You must bring that coupon to the cash register to get your money back. Some grocery stores like Aldi and Lidl do not accept multiple-use (Mehrweg) bottles.6 Rewe and Edeka accept most bottles.
- Liquor stores (Getränkemarkt): if you have a lot of bottles to return, this is the right place.
- Spätis: Spätis will accept the bottles they sold you. They are not a good place to return a lot of bottles.
- Charities: Some charities will accept bottle donations. Pfandgeben is the best way to find them.
It can be hard to return certain types of bottles. If one place does not accept all your bottles, try a different place.
Leaving bottles under trash cans
In Berlin, some people collect empty bottles to earn money. Leave your bottle next to trash can to make their job easier. They won’t need to search inside the bin to find your bottle.