A Step By Step Guide to Recycling Your Bottles in Germany

When you are a solo expat trying to navigate life in Germany by yourself even the simplest tasks seem overwhelming and difficult especially when they are nothing like what you do ‘back home’.  Recycling bottles was one of these scary tasks for me when I first moved here. Therefore, I thought I would write a step-by-step guide for all you new solo expats to take the fear out of recycling your bottles for the first time.

1.  When you are about to head out to the supermarket to do your weekly shopping gather up all the empty plastic and glass bottles and soft drink cans you have brought throughout the week and kept waiting to recycle them.   It doesn’t matter where in Germany you have brought your bottle or can, they can all be recycled at your local supermarket.

2.  Look for the odd looking machine below.  You will most likely find it near the entrance to the supermarket, although some places have them inside the actual supermarket.

3.  Put your bottles and cans into the round hole at the top bottom first.  For a faster bottle recycling experience, make sure the barcode is facing upwards.

4.  Keep putting in all your bottles one after the other until your bag is empty and then press the green button next to the other circular hole.  This will print your receipt.

5. Keep your receipt!  The amount at the bottom is the cash you get back from recycling your bottles.  This is based on the Pfand (deposit) you paid when you brought your bottle.  Most 500mL bottles of soft drink carry a 15c deposit, whilst the 1.5l ones carry a 25c deposit.

6.  When going through the checkout when purchasing your groceries hand this receipt to the cashier and you will get the amount of the receipt deducted from your bill.  If you don’t have anything to buy, you can just hand your receipt to the cashier and get the money back.

Recycling bottles in Germany is quite a unique process, but hopefully the above guide will take all the fear and uncertainty out of your first recycling experience and you’ll be able to to do it like you have been recycling bottles this way for years.

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27 thoughts on “A Step By Step Guide to Recycling Your Bottles in Germany

  1. It’s important to note that only bottles, cans, and jars with the Pfand symbol on the label can be taken in for deposit return. Wine bottles and some juice bottles and of course bottled drinks that come from another country don’t go for deposit return and have to go in the proper recycling bins. Some shops also don’t use the machines. In my local Kaufland you bring them to the Leergut point, your various bottles are counted, a receipt is given and you put the Mehrwegflaschen away in their designated sections yourself. More work for you but the line moves faster and there’s no machine to break down! :)

    Excellent overview of a very important part of daily life in Germany!

    • I had no idea there were places that recycle bottles manually. I have only ever seen the machines. Interesting to know that.

      Also good point about not being able to recycle wine bottles in the machines.

      • We also have an old-fashioned Rewe without a machine. The clerk at the “Getränkemarkt” (bottle shop?) counts the plastic bottles and throws them into a cardboard box and rings up the deposit.

        And just to confuse matters, there are *some* wine bottles (I’ve seen organic wine in 1 liter bottles in plastic cases of 6) that carry a deposit.

      • That Kaufland used to have the machines – two of them – but the lines could get so long, the einwegflaschen had to be cleaned out all the time and they’d go out of order. They switched to the current system and it works better because the employees don’t break. :)

  2. Love your step-by-step guide. Though the last time I went to the grocery store, the machine was broken so I had to hand them over manually. It is great how efficient the recycling is, though – love it!

  3. I know I’m probably really weird, but I always enjoy putting the bottles in and getting money back. The carrying them to the store, not so much…but for some reason getting the pfand back is a fun little game

  4. I love these; we call ’em “Crunch Crunch Crunch Machines.” I’ve seen all three versions though- the Kaufland around the corner has no machines, just a person to count ’em up. And the machines in the Globus will take glass bottles as well, which still kind of blows my mind.

  5. hi
    i would like to ask a question, if i crush the bottles so it takes less space to put them in a bag does i still get the refund?

    • I would personally not crush the bottles as the machine needs to be able to read the barcode to issue the refund and reading the barcode on a crushed bottle can be quite difficult.

  6. Just what I needed for my first trip to the recycling machine – I assumed this was how it works but it’s nice to have it confirmed, so thank you :)

  7. Can the glass beer bottles which do not state “Pfand” or “Mehrwegflasche” be recycled using the machine as well?

    I saw a note on the recycling machine (for glass bottles) on how the glass bottles must have the latter stated on their labels in order to be accepted by the machine, hence I’ve only brought those there to be recycled. However, a housemate (German) told me today that all those common glass beer bottles could be recycled using the machine. Any idea which is right? It would be a bummer to bring all those glass bottles to the supermarket and have it not work.

    • The only glass bottles that I know of that can not be recycled are wine bottles. All beer bottles should be recyclable, but since I don’t drink beer I’m not 100% sure.

    • In my experience, it depends on the machine. Some handle only one type of bottle, and some handle many types. They just put in brand new machines at the Globus near my office that not only handle multiple types of bottles, but they also have a belt on the bottom to take in entire cubes of bottles in one pass. I have no idea how that works, but it’s kind of amazing.

    • And Sweden. Some machines here will also accept non-Swedish cans/bottles/plastic bottles although you’ll not get ‘pant’ on them; apart from UK Shepherd Neame which has pant already printed on the cans…
      Other machines just spit out the foreign stuff…

  8. Pingback: Pi Media » Süddeutschland: Stuttgart to Munich

  9. We think that the German example is very interesting and useful.
    We would like that also in Italy it can be followed. in this way people are stimulated to recycle any kind of material , in particular plastic which can be transformed into energy
    class V E 2 Electrotecnics Perugia , Italy

  10. When germany started this whole 25 cent mashine thing most of the germans where sceptic,me too. But it defenitly makes sense. Less polution local/global, less wasted resources (we should all be aware that our planet isn’t a 24/7-grab-what-u-want-we-got-plenty-of-it thing).
    My personal eyeopener was my honeymoon in spain. I never saw,or never noticed, such filthy beaches. I think it sharpens peoples understanding for the daily polution every one of us is responsible for.

  11. Odd when I went to Spain I was amazed at how clean the beaches were, they drove a machine over them early every morning to collect any waste/rubbish (not that I ever saw much in the first place).

    Anyway can anyone tell me what you do about the bottle lids? On or off? I’m currently on holiday in Germany and am trying to work out what to do so that I can take my empty bottles shopping with me tomorrow.

    • Lids are kept on, but they don’t have to be on. However, the bottle must have a label where the barcode can be read, otherwise you can not recycle them as the pfand is determined by the barcode.

      • Thanks for the quick response, they all have labels in good condition so that shouldn’t be a problem, now thanks to your guide I can hopefully get them recycled easily and quickly tomorrow. (They really should start doing stuff like this in other countries, it’s appalling how little people in general care about recycling/the environment).

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