The deposit (Pfand) system on bottles, jars and cans in Germany can be quite confusing. But, let’s have a closer look and demystify the difference between Einweg, Mehrweg, Dosenpfand, and Flaschenpfand. What is the difference? How can you distinguish between them? And what is the better choice?
So let’s start with the basic Pfand, (das Pfand, pl.: die Pfänder) stands for deposit in German. When you buy certain bottles (glass or plastic), glass jars and cans in Germany, you will need to pay a deposit (Pfand) on top of the product price. Once you return the empty container (to the place of purchase either in person or by feeding one of the deposit return machines), you are refunded your deposit. This system is designed to encourage people to return their empty containers. But beware, not all of them are necessarily reused.
Single use bottles and cans (Einweg)
These bottles and cans are only used once and are recycled or downcycled into other products. Ecologically they have a bigger impact and are less sustainable than multi-use bottles. Note, that cans are always single use.
The single-use deposit plastic bottles typically are thinner plastic (PET) bottles and they have the Einweg-Flaschen symbol on them.
The deposit for these bottles and cans is always 25 cents each and you can identify them by the logo and words such as ‘Einwegflasche’ or ‘Einweg’.
Multi-use bottles and crate (Mehrweg)
These deposit bottles and jars are usually made of glass or thicker plastic and will be refilled up to 50 times before they get recycled.
Multi-use bottles are: -All beer bottles -All bottles sold in crates are deposit multi-use bottles (glass or plastic) -Thicker PET plastic soft drink bottles -Yoghurt glasses -Milk and mylk bottles
The deposit for these bottles varies between 8 to 15 cents per bottle and you can identify them by the ‘Mehrweg’ logo or words such as ‘Mehrwegflasche’ or ‘Mehrweg-Pfandflasche’. And do not forget if you buy your drinks in a crate (Kiste), take that back as well to the shop - this is worth up to 1.50 EUR.
Also there are smaller businesses working with reusable containers, for example the Leipziger tempeh from Umani Kulturgut that you can buy in the Zero Waste shops in Leipzig or oat milk from Havelmi. And the other day I saw rapeseed oil from Öl Muehle Leipzig being sold in a deposit beer bottle.
Please note that still a large number of beverage bottles do not incur a deposit and should either be reused by you as many times as you can or brought to any of the glass recycling containers if they’re made from glass or put in your Gelbe Tonne if they’re made from PET.
This generally includes fruit juice bottles, wine and champagne bottles, all tetra paks and cartons, liquor bottles and all beverage containers of more than 3L volume.
Some places, especially take-aways and fast food outlets tend to offer imported cans or PET bottles which were originally produced for markets abroad. You won’t get any deposit back on them as they do not bear the deposit logo. This practise is technically illegal but hardly ever enforced. It frees take-aways of the need to charge you the deposit and accept return beverage containers.
Where to claim your Pfand deposit
As a rule of thumb, you can return your Leergut (empty containers) where you bought them. Every shop selling bottles and cans with Pfand needs to accept bottle returns; however, only of those types of bottles, they sell.
So for example most discounters who only offer bevarages in single-use (Einweg) PET bootles, will also only accept single-use PET bottles in their deposit return machines.
Also to note, to return bottles and cans, they cannot be crushed or without a label.
Standard honey jars that you bought directly from the beekeeper (round with a golden plastic lid) are often accepted back directly by the producers. Some producers might charge a deposit (usually around 50 cent), but this is not part of the official deposit system. Most beekeepers will be happy to accept these standardised glasses to fill them with new honey during the next harvest.