From the comments, the culture that is German

In Germany, where I live, you get money back for plastic bottles (“Pfand”). Sometimes €0.25 per bottle. And yet, I collect them, without ever finding the time to cash them. I never outright throw them away, but leave them standing neatly close to public trash cans. They are gone in less than an hour.

German colleagues are horrified by my barbaric behavior. I tell them that someone will recycle them, and get the money. But they are actually are horrified that I am not willing to claim the money as everyone else does. I can explain that I would be working below minimum wage if I were to spend time and mental bandwidth returning bottles. But these reasons are no use against the dogma that pfand bottles should be returned. Man macht das nicht.

That is from Londenio.  And, not from the comments, here is a short piece on German economists:

So, my claim is that economists are only respected and accepted in the broader public discourse if they are like lawyers. And my conjecture is that this will remain so.

That is Rüdiger Bachmann: “Die hier geäußerten Meinungen sind nicht unbedingt die Sicht des Vereins für Socialpolitik.”


Hi Ray,

It must be at least 6am in Hellas, perhaps 7am. What's going on? Did you hear the hyena got arrested following TC's exposure?

One night I was drinking in a bar in Hamburg that sat only about 12 people. There were about four patrons there (including me) and we were all talking together. I had left my change from a 20 Euro and my jacket on the back of a chair at the other end of the bar. These Germans were absolutely driven to distraction by the fact that I left my money and jacket down there. I could see everybody, everybody was getting along famously, yet they kept telling me that I left my money on the bar. All I could do is ask "Who is going to steal it, you?"

So you left money lying around Germans thought you were nuts? The Germans were right.

"I never outright throw them away, but leave them standing neatly close to public trash cans."

Nice donation.

Ha ha, I do exactly the same here ( San Diego) . I collect my bottles and cans in the garage. Every 2 weeks I have 2 black trash bags worth. There is a recycling area not far. I drive there but there is always a line. I don't want to wait 20 mins for 8 bucks, so I look for the poorest looking guy in line and gives him the bags. Works out well. I feel good about it and he feels good about it

That is hilarious.

But if you were to say that you don't recycle for the same reasons, you would be accused of destroying the planet in the US, and we don't even get €0.25 per bottle.

I just quietly throw my bottles in the trash and don't tell anyone.

On a side note, I once had an evil plan in which homeless people would be allowed to sort trash for free on the promise that they be allowed to keep any windfalls such as diamond rings that they discovered therein. Nobody seems to like this idea.

Re. bottles in Germany: In Berlin, city cleaning (BSR) is running a pilot project telling people to leave their empty bottles in designated "bottle holders": (note the hipster!). This way, the homeless people (who make a living by returning them to supermarkets) don't have to search trash cans. That is also the reason why some people are opposed to solar-powered compactor trash cans. They would probably end up crushing many plastic bottles, which are the most lucrative at 25 cents.

Already implemented in Copenhagen.

Wait a minute. You mean that there's homeless people in Germany? How can this be? Germany is supposed to be a kind of socialist utopia. You're just making that up.

I think many of the people collecting bottles and cans in Germany, also have homes. It is a a kind social democratic utopia. Less so than The Netherlands, though.

In my experience its not only the conjectured picture of cheap, cheese-paring Germans. It's also about compassion (somebody will steal your money), begrudging the luck of the possible thief and about Cleanliness (bottles outside of trashcans are risk for littering).

I always leave my Pfand next to the trashcan. If I'm drinking outside, i'll rather donate the bottle rather than cash it in myself. Why carrying it home at all?

Regarding Pfand at home: my Recycling Spot doesn't have lines (too many quick machines) and no poor people to hand them bottles. There was a Website though, connecting you with people who would come by your home and take the bottles as donation.

"I can explain that I would be working below minimum wage if I were to spend time and mental bandwidth returning bottles."

This guy's doing it wrong. Sure, when I'm drinking outside I drop it in one of the bottle holders on the side of the rubbish bins, but drinking at home you just need to batch them until you have a worthwhile amount. When I lived in Finland I'd wake up after a party and instead of bemoaning a filthy flat think "That's €50 right there." I would need to spend four hours cashing it in before the payoff dropped below the average hourly wage, the reality was a twenty minute round trip to a supermarket I needed to visit anyway and fifteen minutes meditating in front of the machine.

The Pfand like bottle deposits in US is priced higher than the actual value of the bottles in order to get people to recycle. So if you are making $ going to turn them in, it is an artificial income not a true benefit to society. That is, we are paying people to waste their time recycling.
In my neighborhood, there is no bottle deposit benefit or law, but we do have pickers who come around on trash day (and night before) and pick any large valuable objects, mostly metal but also usable furniture. They don't go through the bins. The city doesn't want large pieces of metal (go figure) and are happy to have the pickers reduce the waste stream. These guys are making a living selling scrap at actual retail values back to scrap yards. Now that is a useful form of recycling.
I work in the paper industry and I can tell you that the process of recycling residential paper has a huge dead-weight loss due to the need to clean out all the waste from the recycle stream (plastic, garbage) and to de-ink the paper. It isn't "free" even though people donate it, and you might notice that recycle printer paper is twice as expensive as regular paper.

Come on! Paper recycling is a very profitable business, with 30% margins or more. You get money twice, once when collecting it and once when selling the recycled paper.

What the author doesn't mention is that in Germany you can cash in the bottles at supermarkets, so basically when you go to buy your groceries, you can also cash in the bottles. You don't really waste that much time doing it.

Post is by Simon Wren-Lewis, not Bachmann.

Did they get rid of the white glass, brown glass, and green glass bins?

A friend of mine once became very annoyed when she saw a truck empty all three bins into the same compartment on the back of the truck. I thought it was funny, but then I'm not German.

Can confirm: They still exist.

Did she watch from an elevated position? Otherwise, how could she tell all bin content indeed went into the same compartment?

No. They all emptied over the same part of the truck.

But I thought Germany had no minimum wage.

It does have minimum wage, 8.5€/h if I'm not mistaken.

The minimum wage Is a fairly recent law. Less than 10 years old.

Obviously intended to keep Muslim immigrants out of the workforce.

Indeed, it was introduced in 2015.

I assume the comment about German economists and lawyers relates to the rise of the adversarial method in economics. I appreciate the adversarial method (I am a lawyer), but trust in economists will collapse if there are no universal truths, only competing sides to ideological and partisan arguments. As for deposits, long before I was a lawyer I was poor and a (very) young husband and father (not much has changed except now I am old and a lawyer) and Friday night's entertainment at the trailer park included hamburgers on the grill and a six pack of Busch beer in long neck returnable bottles that cost 89 cents for the six-pack plus the deposit. We would save the returnable bottles until we had no money to buy milk for the baby and then cash them in to buy a gallon or two of gas for the car (at 29 cents per gallon) and a gallon of milk (for 89 cents). Deposits are "savings" for the poor.

No, it is not about what you think it is. There is a link to the article in the post.

My experience is rather the opposite. I also leave bottles next to trash cans for others to collect and there are plenty of Germans that do the same. I've never heard of anyone getting upset about this. And in Berlin it's considered antisocial to put your bottles in the trash instead of next to it for someone else to collect later.

I have a similar issue with low denomination coins.

When I was a child, I enjoyed putting my small change (or my father's small change when I was much younger) in a jar and watching it grow. Once every few months I'd count it all up, put it into small bags and take it along to the bank to pay in.

I've always kept this habit, but inflation and my increased earnings have chipped away at the objective and subjectve value of the coins I'm collecting. Let's say it takes an hour to count out a huge jar of coins, bag them up, carry them to the bank, queue up, pay them in and walk home. The last time I did this the entire stash added up to just over £10 GBP (about $13 now, though it would have been more like $15 in those heady pre-Brexit days). That's simply not worth my time, even before you count the minute effort each day of carrying around and sorting coins to throw in the jar.

So what do I do instead? It's not worth the time (and inconvenience to anyone queueing behind me) to carry these coins around to try to make correct change in the shops. I'd be risking assault if I gave two pence to a beggar. Throwing the coins straight in the bin would seem to be my most efficient course of action, but I feel as wrong doing that as Londenio's colleagues feel throwing bottles away!

The solution I have come up for this is whenever I am buying less than 10 or 15 items in a Grocery store to use the Self-Cashier line and put the coins in one by one as payment. It would cause a minor delay but not significant . Not sure if these are as ubiquitous in the UK as they are here in the US.

Maybe for quarters, but think about pennies! Its a better value, when time is factored in, to just throw them away (or leave them on the street, etc)

My bank has an automated con counter for the customers...

Many banking branches in my area have coin counting machines that are fast and accurate. You simply log in with a credit or debit card, dump your coins in, and in no time the money is in your account - no counting and bagging necessary. Small businesses often need to make deposits of large volumes of small change from their trade for the day, and these machines cut down on the labour cost of having a teller do it.

I do it once a year. On average it comes to several hundred dollars per year. Some reasons for the large sum are 1) the smallest denomination that is not a coin in Australia is $5, 2) I almost never use coins for purchases, so all coins are pocketed and thrown in the jar. I realise I am actually losing money because of inflation, but it gets the coins out of sight and mind, and it's fun to get a lump sum to spend on some treat for the family over the holidays.

You likely have a local branch that has some such counting machine, but at $15 for a few month's worth, it may still not be worth it.

Most supermarkets these days have these automated coin counters where you just dump a whole jar of mixed change in and it takes a 10% cut.
Personally, I tend to spend my loose change in drink machines and tip jars.

Yes, in Berlin it is commonplace, everyone seems to do that (leaving bottles next to garbage cans for others, e.g.homeless, to collect). On the other hand, in Switzerland you *will* be fined a hefty sum.

Where do they take recyclables for refund in Germany? In Michigan, where I grew up, you return cans and bottles to any store selling that brand for the 10 cent deposit on each, and since you have to go shopping regardless, combining the errands means you are not doing any "work" you wouldn't have to do anyway.

One of my favorite German crises (everything is a "crisis" in German media) was the "Wild Dumping Crisis" that happened a few years ago. The TV news had a bunch of stories, with dramatic music, that featured videos of garbage cans with a bag of garbage lying outside the can. I'm presuming the perp left the bag outside the can because they couldn't figure out which of the six cans the garbage went into.

On the deeper question of the underpinnings of German academic thought, it is really a general European issue. The oldest European universities, starting with Bologna and moving on to such places as Paris (St. Thomas Aquinas) as well as Oxford and Cambridge and then to German ones after some others in other parts of Europe were all founded as law schools, of course initially operating within a Christian context. As time passed and the original law part became a specialty the issues that we now view as economic continued to remain within it, just as psychology remained within philosophy until the end of the nineteenth century. Pretty much everywhere in Europe economics academically came out of law schools, although occasionally with such specializations as moral philosophy here and there such as Glasgow where Adam Smith held such a chair. The first Professor of Political Economy in Britain was Malthus. Germans began talking about "economics" early in the 19th century well before this happened in Britain, although those practicing this vile science remained within law schools. After all, Marx's PhD thesis was in jurisprudence officially.

Someone needs to explain to him that the homeless people grabbing these bottles and returning them are working for less than the minimum wage.

There is a similar system in Brussels where I lived for a few years. You could reclaim the deposit in the supermarket, maybe 15c a bottle. Sometimes it didn't work, or there was a queue.

There were also regular bottle banks (for glass jars). An enterprising man with a bike, a rucksack and a long pincers used to fish in these bottle banks for bottles that would give him a deposit.

I never drank more than a few bottles a week, didn't have a car, and generally shopped for groceries spontaneously. I had a relatively high income but not much leisure time. So I just left the bottles beside the bottle bank (technically littering) but they were always gone quickly.

Comments for this post are closed