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How does Germany avoid waste?

The German deposit system, sustainable initiatives and strict laws: We have answers to key questions about avoiding waste in Germany.  

Christina IglhautChristina Iglhaut, 21.06.2023
Germany offers many opportunities for plastic-free shopping
Germany offers many opportunities for plastic-free shopping © AdobeStock / Philippe Marchand

How does Germany’s deposit system work? 

Anyone who has ever visited a German supermarket is sure to have noticed the machines at the entrance - almost ceiling-high, they feature a hole in the middle and normally have a queue of people waiting to use them. But what are these machines for and why are they so popular? They are what are known as reverse vending machines. In Germany, a deposit is charged on certain types of beverage packaging such as glass and plastic bottles and cans. When they buy drinks packaged in this way, customers pay the deposit on top of the purchase price. When they return the empty packaging, they get the deposit back. Reserve vending machines in supermarkets accept the returned bottles and containers, while some shops allow customers to hand their empty bottles back at the till. The packaging is then recycled.

What does Germany do to combat food waste? 

Germany’s goal is to halve per-capita food waste at retail and consumer levels by 2030. To achieve this, the country adopted its National Strategy for Food Waste Reduction in 2019. Food waste that is generated along the  

production and supply chain is likewise to be significantly reduced. Even beyond the political level there are also many ways to avoid food waste in Germany, however. For example, there are many food-sharing apps that allow private individuals to pick up food from supermarkets, restaurants and bakeries either cheaply or for free, or to offer food themselves for others to pick up.

How can I shop sustainably and reduce packaging waste in Germany? 

Here are some tips if you want to shop sustainably and reducepackaging waste in Germany: Choose unpackaged or loose products and take reusable shopping bags, containers and nets with you. Shop in zero waste shops where you can fill products into containers you have brought with you. Preferably choose products with eco-friendly packaging or ones that are completely recyclable, and find out about local markets and farm shops where you can buy fresh and regional products.