Different rules and customs – what may surprise an international in Germany? Pfand system

“So many countries, so many customs” – this proverb is very well known worldwide. And not without a reason – it’s simply true. In every country foreigners will be facing some unknown for them habits. And again – for every nationality they may be different. We decided to provide you with a series of articles describing differences we – as internationals – experienced while studying in Germany. Our idea is to publish a few articles in the coming weeks describing different solutions applied in Germany. Are you ready to discover a few of them with us? Let’s start with the pfand system!

First impressions

Paying deposits for bottles? Collecting bottles at home? Spending on bottle deposit more than on the beverage itself? That’s crazy!

These were my first thoughts when I found out about the pfand system in Germany. The first time I was shopping some beverages the receipt I got in the store surprised my – why did I have to spend more than I thought? Then I saw it – “Pfand, 8 x 0.25”. I spoke with my boyfriend about it who explained me the whole concept.

Germans are known for taking care a lot about the environment. Every year millions of tons of plastics are produced worldwide. These excessive amounts of plastic deteriorate our environment. Thanks to the pfand system Germans are able to significantly decrease the amount of plastic produced. Glasses bottles are simply rewashed, relabeled and reused.  Plastic bottles are treated by a shredder and then this plastic is reused to produce a new bottle.

Example of a machine where you can give back bottles

How does the pfand system work for me?

How does it look for a customer? Each bottle (like everywhere else) is labeled with a bar code. While scanning a bar code from bottles to our receipt automatically some amounts are added – for a glass bottle 8 cent, for plastic ones either 15 or 25 cent. Later on you simply bring the empty bottles, put it to a special machine available in stores in Germany and then a ticket is printed for you. The ticket is actually a small paper with a bar code showing how much the bottles you gave up are worth. You can use it either as a discount while shopping in this store or exchange it for cash. Sometimes, when this kind of machine is not available in a given store, you can simply give back the bottles to a cashier.


Not always you get back as much as you spent. For example if you bring lots of bottles to Netto, very often their machines don’t accept the glass bottles if the beverage was bought somewhere else. It’s even worse with Lidl – their machines accept only the bottles that were bought in their store. And sometimes, especially if you do not have a car, it’s really inconvenient to give back the bottles to the same chain. Also if the label is somehow destroyed and the bar code is unreadable the machine will not be able to accept this bottle. So sometimes you have no other option than simply leave the bottle aside the machine and accept the loss of money.

Example of a discount card printed by a machine

Pfand system – solution for all countries?

Even though at the beginning I was skeptical about this solution, I started to appreciate it after some time. In Poland unfortunately still lots of plastic is not reused. We don’t have to pay extra for the plastic bottles, therefore nobody has an incentive to store them and give back where they belong. It’s simpler just to throw them away to a trash bin. And even though we do segregate trash, still tones of plastic deteriorate our environment. And don’t we all want to appreciate our beautiful world and make something good for it? Sure we do! And now we can. With the pfand system.


2 thoughts on “Different rules and customs – what may surprise an international in Germany? Pfand system

  • Ich habe vor kurzem mit einem Freund darüber gesprochen, wie ich gern für Kleidung online einkaufen möchte. Im Laufe des Gesprächs stellten wir fest, dass wir beide einen ganz anderen Ansatz hatten, auf diese Weise einzukaufen. Das war für mich eine Überraschung.

  • Ich mag dieses Blog so viel, in fav gespeichert. “Respekt für die Zerbrechlichkeit und die Bedeutung eines individuellen Lebens ist immer noch das Zeichen eines gebildeten Mannes” von Norman Cousins.

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