Germany used to be really progressive in terms of recycling and deposit bottles.¬† Whilst the days of glass deposit bottles in the UK disappeared at the end of the 1970s, Germany still today charges a small deposit on plastic bottles.
The difference is that, when I first came to live in Germany there was only a deposit on recyclable bottles.¬† Recently, all that has changed.
Some years ago someone worked out that too many tin cans were being thrown away and not recycled.¬† The cans belonged in the so-called Gr√ľne Punkt system – that’s usually the yellow rubbish bag or bin.¬† Too few cans were finding their way into the system and thus were not being recycled.¬† To combat this problem a deposit was introduced on cans and the had to be taken back to the supermarket.
This was thwart with problems.¬† Not all cans were affected – it depended on what was in them.¬† The cans could not be crushed, so you had to collect them in a good state and return them to the supermarket, who then had to store them to recycling.¬† And finally, there was no central system to recycling the cans.¬† Each chain or even shop required you to produce the receipt from when you purchased the can, and would only takes ones that they had sold back.
I remember once going away from the weekend and buying a can at a service station on the motorway.¬† I had to return it to that very same service station on the way back – on the other side of the motorway.¬† Of course, I had to prove that I had bought it there a couple of days before.
So in the end, a lot of supermarkets stopped stocking cans.¬† That’s another way of solving the problem, I guess.
The next stop was to put a deposit on non-recyclable bottles.¬† For some reason this deposit is higher than on the bottles that can be recycled.¬† Again, it took a while for a system to be agreed and until then every chain had their own system.
Even now, you can only return one of these bottles to a shop that sells that product.¬† So if you buy a shop’s own brand, then you have to return the bottle to them.¬† The machine that you put them into even scans the barcode to make sure of it!¬† If the barcode is missing, then the deposit is lost.
Which leads me back to my motorway problem.¬† Recently I bought a large bottle of a soft drink on a motorway service station.¬† To avoid any problems, I wanted to return it on the other side of the motorway on the return journey.
Do you think that they accepted the bottle?¬† Of course they didn’t – “we don’t sell that size of bottle here” was the answer.¬† They had the same drink on sale in a different size bottle.¬† (For some reason they wanted to tell me this in English as well, which didn’t go down well).
I insisted that I had purchased the bottle at their other store on the other side of the motorway, but they didn’t believe me.¬† “OK”, I said, “then I’ll go out to my car and fetch the receipt.¬† But if I do, and I’m right, then I expect you to accept the bottle and give me my deposit back”.¬† This did not go down well – a customer putting his foot down.¬† The cashier reached into the till and begrudgingly took the bottle and gave me my money.¬† Did they really think I was going to keep the bottle and take it back with me on another trip to the original side?