There are a handful of things for which other countries view Germany with a mixture of awe and astonishment. This includes German highways, the alleged affinity of German citizens for sorting waste – and the German reusable system for bottles of all kinds. But that’s not what it used to be. “Our reusable system is breaking down,” says Katharina Istel from Naturschutzbund Deutschland (Nabu).
Just a few days ago, the Society for Packaging Market Research released the new reusable quotas for Germany. As a result, the reusable portion “increased further” from 41.2 to 41.8 percent. What only emerges from the numbers on closer inspection: the increase is only due to a reusable plus for water bottles. In all other segments – beer, soft drinks, alcoholic mixed drinks – the reusable quota has recently been reduced. All the more so since the quota only concerns the so-called “drink segments with deposit”: milk, fruit juices, wine and spirits are explicitly exempted from the deposit obligation in Germany. This means that the “real” reusable quota is not around 42%, but a few percentage points below.
Another problem is that many manufacturers have started to design their own bottles in recent years. “Individualized glass bottles are bad for the returnable system,” criticizes Istel. These bottles must always be transported to the same bottler, regardless of the place of delivery in Germany. “The pool systems from many vendors are much more efficient than if each vendor organized the recovery themselves,” explains Istel.
What is disposable, what is reusable?
And not all deposits are the same. In Germany, for example, there is a deposit system for non-returnable and returnable bottles. Almost half of German citizens don’t understand the difference, according to an Emnid study. Explanation: Reusable bottles have the simple mention “Reusable” on the bottle. If it only says “deposit vial” or “returned deposit”, it is a single-use vial. Another indication of the type of bottle is the deposit amount: for returnable bottles, it is eight or 15 cents, the one-way deposit is uniform at 25 cents.
But which bottle is the best for the environment? The most sustainable – as the studies of various customers unanimously show – the reusable PET bottle. Unlike its glass counterpart, it can only be filled about 25 times and not up to 50 times. Due to its lower weight during transport, it is always preferable – especially if it is made from recycled materials.
Disposable PET bottles, on the other hand, are filled only once and then immediately recycled. Reusable glass bottles are better for them – unless they have to travel hundreds of miles between the bottler and the beverage store. Then the single-use PET bottle can have a more environmentally friendly meaning due to its low weight. Reusable glass bottles protect the climate especially if they come from the immediate area.