Because of the importance of recycling and reusing in Germany, most drinks you buy at the grocery—water, soft drinks, juice, even beer—have a deposit (Pfand) on the bottles (plastic or glass). These can be either € .08, .15, or .25, depending on the bottle. A family of three tends to collect a lot of bottles pretty quickly.
Enter the Leergutautomat—as we like to call it, the “Bottle Muncher.” Most larger groceries have one of these machines, which reads the barcode on your empty bottles and gives you credit for the deposits paid. They collect the bottles either for recycling (you can hear them “crunch” the bottles made of thin plastic) or refilling at the bottler’s. Once you’ve fed all your bottles to the muncher, you press a button and it gives you a “Gutscheine” – a coupon to use at the checkout for the value of your deposits.
I’ve been to several different groceries. The munchers at Lidl and Aldi (the ones close to me, anyway) only took a few of my bottles. Most of them they rejected. But the newer muncher at Marktkauf takes almost all of them! Occasionally, it will reject one if it can’t read the barcode, but I would say that 95% or better are accepted.
My typical grocery routine is this:
- Gather the empty, rinsed bottles from the crate we got for their collection, and pack them into empty grocery bags in my market bag (to keep them from getting the market bag wet, of course)
- Head with market bag to U-Bahn, ride to Plärrer station—Marktkauf, the store I prefer, has an entrance directly from the station. Marktkauf has the best selection I’ve found, and good prices.
- Get a cart. The carts in Germany have all four wheels that turn free—an odd sensation the first time you try to steer one! They also are chained together, and take a Euro coin deposit to use. There’s a hook on the cart to hang your market bag, or purse, or whatever.
- Go to the “bottle muncher” first, process all the bottles and get my receipt. It’s located in the beverage section, a good place to start my shopping.
- Fill the basket with the things I’ll need over the next few days. We’ve been planning meals to make the process easier, and I have to remember that not only to I have to fit all my purchases in the market bag, I have to make sure I have enough room in my fridge!
- Checkout—a process in itself. There are no “baggers” in the grocery. If you don’t bring your own bags, you can buy them for about .10 each. But typically you put all your purchases back in the cart, then roll over to a side table to pack. You can’t dawdle at the checkout—it only gets you dirty looks!
- Pack the market bag, and head back home—I have to get that bag up 4 flights of stairs!
- Go back to (1) and start all over again in a couple days.
We usually have a couple euro in deposits each time.