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Germany is counted among those countries, where policies and rules are taken very seriously and are meant to be followed. Germany and Germans are adamant about the policies related to nature and global warming. One such policy is Pfand System.

If you are planning to stay in Germany for a longer duration, then it might be helpful to understand this system and is a little step towards living like a German in Germany.

Imagine how much money you could save if you return 25 empty bottles! This is why one sometimes spots individuals voluntarily collect used bottles in Germany. Large numbers of poor or homeless people supplement their incomes by collecting discarded bottles.

The bottles that are eligible for Pfand (the “deposit” cash) are usually multi-use, reusable bottles. Plastic bottles in Germany can be reused up to 25 times and glass bottles can be reused up to 50 times. The Pfand is an incentive for the buyers to have those bottles returned, rather than thrown in the dustbin.

Pfand system is a cycle, where people are asked to return certain type of bottles. These bottles gets recycled and people get some cash against the deposited bottles. It is a win win situation for citizens as well as for the environment and has set a good example in front of the whole world. 

Now let’s jump into the procedures and the back stage show of this whole system and understand it on the microlevel. 

In 2003, Germany introduced a system known as Pfand system (or deposit system) in order to control the sale and the return of some specific bottles made of plastic, glass and sometime aluminum. This system is almost 2 decades old.

 

The German word ‘Pfand’ means deposit. When someone buys a bottled drinks, he deposits an extra amount (for ex – 15 cents) at the time of purchase. Most of the supermarkets or convenience store in Germany, like Edeka, Lidl, and Aldi owns a bottle recycle machine, normally next to the drink section. When one returns the bottles to the return station, he gets the receipt of 15 cents in return. This receipt can either be used in the next purchase or can be cashed out. 

If this machine were a Harry Potter character, it’d be the Goblet of Fire. You feed it a bottle, bottom end first and wait whilst the machine does a bit of whirring, scanning and spinning. If it likes the bottle (i.e. with Pfand label), it’ll swallow it up into its giant bottle belly and ask for another. If it does not like the bottle (i.e. invalid bottle) then it will be thrown back to you like those twin Weasley brothers in the movie. 

In 2005 DPG Deutsche Pfandsystem GmbH was established to provide the legal and organizational framework for settlement of the deposits (deposit clearing) between the companies participating in this system. DPG has developed a set of standards for a uniform labelling procedure that enables the automatic collection of the bottles. The unique logo are the means for commoners to know, weather they fall under Pfand system or not.

The deposit amounts varied from 8 cents to 25 cents. However, standard beer crates have a deposit of €3.10 (if one returns them with all 20 empties, he gets his whole deposit back). 

The bottles purchased in supermarkets, that are being imported from outside Germany does not fall under this German law. Hence, these bottles cannot be returned.  

In Germany, 97.9 percent of the polyethylene terephthalate (PET) were sold with a deposit on them and 93.5 were recycled in 2015, according to a report by the German Society for Packaging Market Research. 

British company Eunomia named Germany as the world’s best recycler in 2017 with a recycle rate of 66% in the report prepared jointly with the European Environmental Bureau.

 With all these positive aspects in its bag, this system has some setbacks too. Firstly, not every supermarket accepts the bottles and the consumers run around with their cars, to find the shop, who accepts the bottles. Secondly, just to get few euros back, consumer spends too much fuel while travelling back to the supermarket, from where they originally purchased. 

This unneccessary emission of harmful gases into the atmosphere somewhere slowly kills the motto of this eco-friendly system.

Another problem is that the Pfand system has not created much of an incentive for manufacturers to go green. Drinks producers, in fact, make a sizable profit from the 1-3% of unreturned non-recyclable bottles, for which retailers have charged their customers extra but never had to pay back a deposit.

But despite all these setbacks, Pfand System appears to work well. It also has a social function and helps keep the German roads clean. It is also a good practice and in turn citizens become more and more eco-friendly. Let’s hope this system surpasses

its shortcomings in the coming years and hence more and more companies join this system. 

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