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Pfand – or the “ransom” on the beer bottle

Jan 12, 20200 comments

Karin Stumph

Ever walked into a German grocery store and wondered why all the drinks are sold in racks and stood there curious what the Pfand charge on the price label meant?

It’s all part of the great Pfand/deposit system we use in Germany.

It seems that the first Pfand bottles were available in the 1920’s for some beer and water bottles; soon after you could buy milk in Pfand bottles too.
In the early 70’s soda bottles followed the lead and went Pfand also.

So, what is Pfand?

Pfand is a portion of the price on a bottled drink that you get back if you return said bottle to a certified outlet. For glass or heavy-duty plastic bottles that can be refilled and are sold in racks or single (in German: Mehrwegflaschen), this is about €0.08 per bottle, which may not seem like a lot; for recyclable but non-reusable thin plastic bottles and aluminum cans, however (known as Einwegflaschen), it’s a whopping €0.25 per bottle.

Those bottles can easily be identified by the little picture they have on the label.

You can get your Pfand back, by simply returning the bottles to a supermarket store which sells drinks, regardless of whether the drinks where bought there or not. This is because German law states that all stores and supermarkets over a certain size selling bottled drinks have to have a Pfandrückgabestelle, or place to return bottles with deposits.

Most supermarkets do this with a pair of machines or a till at the entrance of the drink section. The bottles are either accepted or rejected according to whether they were produced and bought in Germany, and whether they are covered by the system or not. Wine and spirits bottles, are not, since there is wide variety of shapes and sizes. Beer, water and soft-drinks however, have standardized bottle shapes and are interchangeable between manufactures.