The Pfand system: how to return bottles in Germany

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.

Illustration of bottles with a deposit (Pfand)

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 0.152
  • 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 – They go in the yellow recycling bin. Plastic milk bottles have a deposit.
  • 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

How to sort trash in Germany

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.

Bierkasten mit Pfand
A beer crate with a 1,50€ Pfand.

How to identify Pfand bottles

Pfand symbols

If you see one of these symbols on a container, it has a deposit.4

Pfand logos germany
Bottles with these logos have a deposit.
A Pfand logo on an aluminium can
The Pfand logo is often next to the barcode

Pfand keywords

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”

A glass bottle with an embossed "Mehrweg"
Sometimes, it's embossed on the bottle

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.

  • Supermarket
    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 store (Getränkemarkt)
    If you have a lot of bottles to return, bring them to a liquor store like Getränke Hoffmann.
  • Späti
    They will accept the bottles they sold you. It’s not a good place to return a lot of bottles.
  • Donate your bottles to bottle collectors in your area. Use Pfandgeben 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.

Pfandautomat edeka bottle return machine
A bottle return machine (Pfandautomat) at Edeka

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.

Pfandflasche unter mull berlin
You can leave empty Pfand bottles under a trash can
Sources and footnotes