Ger­man man cashes in on bot­tle re­cy­cling

The Guardian Weekly - - Diversions - Philip Ol­ter­mann

A 27-year-old man faced court in Bochum, Ger­many, on two fraud charges, af­ter al­legedly mak­ing €1.2m ($1.5m) through il­le­gally ma­nip­u­lat­ing ma­chines used for a de­posit re­turn scheme for bot­tles and cans. He is ac­cused of de­fraud­ing drinks man­u­fac­tur­ers by dis­abling the shred­ding mech­a­nism on two ma­chines, al­low­ing him to claim back de­posits for the same bot­tles over and over again.

With each plas­tic bot­tle usu­ally earn­ing a 25-cent re­turn, the ac­cused man would have had to “re­cy­cle” his set of bot­tles 4.8m times.

His lawyer claimed his client was a “straw man” who had taken over a re­tail out­fit as a favour to a rel­a­tive, un­aware of the ma­nip­u­lated ma­chines hav­ing been put in place.

Under the de­posit re­turn scheme, which has been in place in Ger­many since 2003 and is due to be in­tro­duced in Eng­land this year, cus­tomers pay an ad­di­tional de­posit or Pfand as part of the price of a bot­tle or can, which they can re­claim when re­turn­ing the drinks con­tainer to a ven­dor.

The re­turn usu­ally takes place via so­phis­ti­cated “re­verse vend­ing ma­chines” that scan in the bot­tles and hand out a voucher cus­tomers can cash in at the counter.

Re­us­able bot­tles are stored and sent back to the man­u­fac­turer, while non­reusable “one-way” bot­tles, usu­ally made out of poly­eth­yl­ene tereph­tha­late, are shred­ded in­side the mech­a­nism.

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