In Germany, it quite literally ‘pays’ to recycle. When buying beverages – alcoholic or not – a portion of your payment is considered a ‘deposit’ on the bottle which you can get back by returning it to a bottle disposal unit. This deposit, or ‘Pfand’ in German, encourages people to recycle bottles. Different types of bottles have a different value; depending on whether it is glass bottles, plastic or tin cans. Germans often build up a ‘Pfand’ collection and wait until they have many bottles in their flat before returning them to the supermarket.
At a drinks retailer on the outskirts of Hamburg, a father holds up his three-year-old son to help him push an empty plastic water bottle into a hole on a large grey machine.
With a whirring sound, the apparatus pulls the bottle out of the child’s hand, juggles it on an assembly line to scan the barcode, then sucks the container even deeper into its belly and eventually shreds it with a satisfying crunch.
“Jackpot!” says the boy, beaming with glee as the machine spits back a 25-cent voucher.
With its reputation as a recycling world champion, Germany is seen by many as the inspiration behind Britain’s new deposit-return scheme (DRS) for bottles and cans. However, 15 years after its introduction, views still vary on whether the scheme is a case of bottle half-empty or bottle half-full.
Many in the world are calling this system a motivation to do the right thing, many South Africans believe this would engage more Africans to participate in recycling with the incentive seen as a push to do the right thing in Africa.