German word of the day: Das Pfand

German word of the day: Das Pfand
Archive photo shows a Pfand donation box at Hamburg's airport. Photo: picture alliance / dpa | Daniel Bockwoldt
This may seem like a fairly mundane German word, but knowing its colloquial meaning may help you save a few cents.

Das Pfand in its most basic sense means a pledge or a deposit and is a very old German word, remaining almost unchanged from the Old High German Pfant

Perhaps surprisingly for those unfamiliar with Germany’s recycling system, you are most likely to come across this word on your weekly trip to the supermarket. 

Flaschenpfand, or Pfand for short, is a recycling initiative in Germany, whereby you can return plastic and glass bottles for a partial refund. 

 
 
 
 
 
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The ‘deposit’ element of the system does not actually refer to the act of returning your bottles, but instead to the extra charge that is added to these products when you buy them in a shop, which you then get back once you return them. 

If you are living in Germany and have been blissfully unaware of the Pfand initiative, you may have been missing out on significant amounts of money. 

So called Mehrweg or multi-use bottles, which are usually made from glass or thick plastic, can be returned for around 8-15 cents per bottle, while single-use plastic bottles, or Einwegflaschen, and cans will get you 25 cents each. 

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If you have an empty six-pack of cans in your recycling bin, it means you are sitting on a small jackpot of €1.50. After a couple of weeks of holding onto your bottles and cans, this amount can really add up.

READ ALSO: Over 30,000 deposit bottles given to Bavarian couple as wedding gift

The Flaschenpfand system was implemented in Germany in 2003, to ensure there was an effective incentive for individuals to recycle their used bottles, and for companies to start supplying their products in reusable glass or plastic bottles.

The process of washing and sterilising existing bottles is overwhelmingly better for the environment than the production of new, single-use packaging. 

It is well worth hanging onto your empty bottles and taking them in bulk to the supermarket or local kiosk to get your Pfand refunded – you will definitely not be the only one lugging a backpack full of old beer bottles into the supermarket before your weekly shop. In fact, doing so will make you look more like a local than ever.  

Examples:

Das Flaschenpfand ist im Bruttopreis enthalten.

The deposit charge is included in the gross cost. 

Ich hatte so viele Einwegflaschen gesammelt, dass ich €25 Pfandgeld zurück bekommen hab’!

I had collected so many single-use bottles that I got €25 refunded!


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