How to Get FREE Money, While Saving the Planet. Germany’s Pfand System

Whether you’re looking for a little extra travel change, or feel a burning desire to make a difference in the world, Germany has set out to solve your problem using one simple, but effective, method: The Pfand System.

It’s no secret that for most countries, the fight against littering and pollution has been an uphill battle.

A little research on the topic of waste pollution will convince just about anyone that the motivation to adopt sustainable practice is in short supply these days (to say the least.)

But if you ever find yourself in Germany, you might be surprised to discover that recycling comes pretty easy.

Because they’ll literally pay you to do it!


The Pfand system?A call to action

So, I arrive in Berlin and, as always, I’m ready for a brand new challenge!

For those who don’t know, I spend a lot of time going from city to city teaching people simple survival/travel hacks that they can use to cut costs of living to as little as £1 per day.

Naturally, I’ve had to get pretty creative in order to do this. So you can imagine my excitement when I discovered that the city of Berlin has a system in place that allows people to turn in empty containers in exchange for . . . well, free money!

That’s because most of the time, when you purchase a bottle or container, you’re also paying a deposit. So when you return a bottle or container, you get that deposit back.

Now, this doesn’t mean you’ll be paying your bills via bottle-hoarding anytime soon, but it does mean that collecting an easy €3 could be as simple as exchanging a few empty bottles.

A pretty sweet deal, right?

In fact, while there are various ways one might go about collecting bottles, were they so inclined (we’ll get into that in a bit), civilians will tend to make them even more accessible by setting them right outside recycling bins.

[Picture of guy leaving bottle next to bin]

So, not only does the Pfand (Deposit) system encourage sustainable practice but it also provides some semblance of a safety net for those who need/want it most.

If that’s not love, I don’t know what is!

So, how does one go about turning rags to riches? Well, that’s exactly what I set out to discover:


Claiming the deposit

I learned that, as a general rule, if a business sells certain Pfand-friendly bottles or containers, it also accepts them for return.

Additionally, you don’t necessarily have to return the bottle to the business it was purchased from. Certain kinds of businesses will accept just about any Pfand container. But other types do have limitations on the variety of bottles they’ll accept.

Here’s a list of retail options for those seeking compensation:

  • Spätis:a Spätis will accept bottles they’ve sold you, but aren’t the best place to return a large variety.
  • Supermarkets:These generally accept most Pfand containers, but there might still be a few outliers.
  • Liquor stores (Getränkemarkt):If you’re looking to cash in big (. . . you know what I mean) with a large variety of bottles, liquor stores are definitely the place for you!
  • Charities: Feeling charitable? is a great way to search for local venues that will use your bottles to support the less fortunate.

Once you find one of these locations, search or ask around for a bottle return machine (Pfandautomat).

Each container you place inside the port will be scanned and, if accepted, the Pfandautomat will print a small coupon. Take the coupon(s) to the nearest cash register, then collect your free money. It really is that simple!


How do I know which bottles have deposits and which don’t?

Great question.

If you’re looking to make a quick buck, these are the ones you’ll want to keep an eye out for:

  • Water bottles (glass or plastic)
  • Soft drink bottles (glass or plastic)
  • Aluminium cans
  • Beer bottles
  • Landliebeyoghurt containers
  • All multiple-use (Mehrweg) containers

And these are the ones that are still great to recycle, but don’t typically have deposits on them:

  • Most milk and juice bottles
  • Most wine bottles
  • Bottles purchased in other countries
  • Bottles with the Grüne Punktlogo


How much are we talking?—Different prices for different bottles?

Unfortunately, not all bottles are created equal.

There are basically two different types of deposits.

  • Single-use (Einweg) bottles: These have a fixed rate of25 cents, and are recyclable but not reusable.
  • Multiple-use (Mehrweg) bottles: These range from anywhere between 8 to 15 cents and are 100% reusable.

Check your bottles for the logos shown above to determine whether or not they can be deposited, and how much you’ll get for them.


Where’s the best place to find bottles in berlin?

Well, as I mentioned earlier, the people of Berlin have this amazing habit of placing their bottles right next to the recycle bins, which you can find all throughout the city.

However, I soon realised this probably wasn’t the most effective way to collect bottles. So instead of wandering the whole of berlin for the rest of the day, I popped into a nearby hostel and managed to gather a huge collection from there!

But there are plenty of other ways to collect bottles. You could try:

  • Saving bottles you’ve bought
  • Asking friends/family
  • Superstores
  • Restaurants
  • hotels
  • Bars

To name a few. The sky’s the limit, really.

Granted, things being what they are in 2020, the city of Berlin is a bit quieter than usual. But once things get back to normal you can bet there will be no shortage of concerts, parties, large-scale functions, football games, and nights on the town for people to capitalize on.

So if you find yourself in Berlin one of these days (or someplace like it), remember to leave your bottles out for those less fortunate. But if you’re looking for a little bit of extra spending money, you can always take the magic of sustainability into your own hands!

Either way, it’s a win.

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