The German Pfand (pronounced “FUND”) system is a logistical marvel and newcomers nightmare.
Whenever you buy a drink, such as a bottle of cola, water, or beer you will pay a small deposit on the actual bottle or can each time. It’s commonly either €0.08 or €0.25 added to the listed price of your drink. Once you return the bottles to a machine like the one above, you get a little receipt for the value of your returned bottles to spend in the store, in my case normally on more beer.
It is not just limited to shops though, in many bars that have outdoor seating and festivals you will also pay a Pfand on your glasses, sometimes this is up to 3 euros per glass, returned to you when you return them. No matter how many times you visit a wine stand, it’s highly likely you will forget about this, clutching a €10 note for your two €5 glasses of wine only be told (in German that you probably don’t understand) that your order costs €14 because you have forgotten to add Pfand again!
Not only is this system a necessity for Germany to have any hope of meeting their environmental targets (it would be a lot of discarded plastic otherwise) it also encourages you to recycle. Given the amount of bottled water you will have to buy living in Germany the pfand will soon add up.
Because every bottle is worth a few cents, recycling also encourages cleaner streets. Many homeless (and sometimes not homeless people) will root through rubbish bins in the streets and on trains looking for discarded bottles and cans, to return in exchange for cash. Some rubbish bins even have holders on the outside of the bin to make it easier to collect.
Whilst overall it is an inconvenience to haul these returns around, my favourite part about it is, returning a shedload of bottles and getting enough Pfand back to cover the cost of my next crate of delicious German beer, it literally feels like free beer!