For most consumers, the path of emptied one-way beverage bottles or cans ends at the reverse vending machine. Few people know that there is a much more exciting story waiting behind the slot of the reverse vending machine. We take a look behind the scenes.
Tons of sorted recyclate, material recovered from plastic packaging, and aluminum and tin, and others - a never-ending stream of valuable packaging materials can be put to new use over and over again thanks to the work of DPG and its affiliated system participants. This process of professional upcycling is particularly convincing when the material remains in a closed loop and does not lose its useful quality during recycling - for example, to become a park bench.
Follow the path of a used plastic bottle or beverage can in our video: One-way deposit and recycling cycle
At the reverse vending machine - the place where almost all one-way beverage packaging with a deposit ends up after use - it also starts a new life cycle. After the DPG logo has been electronically recognized and the product-specific barcode of each packaging has been scanned, the collected bottles and cans are sorted, pressed into large bundles and transported to the recycling facility.
What happens to the PET bottles?
In 2019, there were 18 billion PET beverage bottles in circulation in Germany. This corresponds to 467.4 kt (one kilo-ton/kt equals 1,000 tons) of used PET beverage bottles, of which 406.1 kt were returned to the material cycle as one-way PET bottles collected via the national collection of recyclable materials. This quantity can be reprocessed in highly specialized facilities. This involves detaching labels, removing metals, sorting the empty containers by color, chopping, washing and finally processing them into flakes and later plastic pellets. And because the material has already been used at least once, the pellets obtained are referred to as recyclate. And this can be pressed into almost any desired shape in the next step - preferably back into that of a bottle. The printed recycling code "PET 01" tells you in this case that it is PET (polyethylene terephthalate). This is a material that is suitable for food and beverage packaging. And if the recyclate-containing "new" one-way bottle is filled again with a beverage for which a deposit has to be paid, it must also be labeled again with the DPG logo - as proof and guarantee that the product is firmly integrated into the German deposit system and the material cycle that it secures.
What happens to aluminum and tin cans?
Aluminum (aluminum) and tin can recycling is carried out in similar processes to PET recycling. The collected cans - also called UBCs, or Used Beverage Cans - are cleaned, stripped of their paint and processed into fine chips that are melted at about 700 degrees Celsius to form liquid raw aluminum and rolled back into thin sheets. In this way, around 8,000 meters of aluminum sheet can be produced from one ingot of used beverage cans, resulting in an estimated 700,000 new beverage cans. The immense advantage of this process is that the production of aluminum from used material uses only 5% of the energy required for the production of primary aluminum.
Together for the environment
The deposit system for labeled one-way beverage packaging set up by DPG and integrated into sustainable material cycles since 2006 makes a significant contribution to waste reduction and resource conservation. The high return rates underline the broad consumer acceptance and the ecological success of the DPG system. But the recycling of used (packaging) materials is no longer just a matter of conscience.
Recycling as a hard-hitting economic factor
Now, at the latest, in a time when energy is becoming increasingly scarce and valuable, recycling is also about saving expensive raw materials (especially oil and gas) and energy-optimized processes. The DPG deposit system and all its affiliated companies are also making an important contribution in this context to meeting the growing demand for recyclable materials.
More interesting facts & figures
- In 2019, 467.4 kt = 18 billion pieces of PET beverage bottles were consumed in Germany.
- Via the various channels of recyclables collection, 458.0 kt of pure PET is collected in Germany. This corresponds to a return rate of 98%, with the DPG system being one of the primary return systems.
- Essentially the DPG system contributes to a recycling rate of 99.7% for tin beverage cans and 99.3% for aluminum beverage cans, as well as a recycling rate of 97.4% for one-way deposit bottles.
- PET beverage bottles produced in Germany consist on average of around one-third (34.4%) recycled PET (rPET).
- 93-97% of all PET beverage bottles are suitable for bottle-to-bottle recycling (collection of higher-value granules that are reused in the production of PET beverage bottles).
- rPET is one of the recyclables in high demand today. The higher the proportion of recycled material in a "newly" produced beverage packaging, the better its eco-balance. If PET can be kept in the food industry's recycling system for as long as possible, the PET non-refillable deposit system will de facto be transformed into a system for multiple use of the primary material.
- As a rule, more than 95% of all circulating PET one-way beverage packaging remains in the recyclable material cycle thanks to those involved in the German one-way deposit system.
 „ Gesellschaft für Verpackungsmarktforschung (2020): Aufkommen und Verwertung von PET-Getränkeflaschen in Deutschland 2019. S. 16.
 https://www.verbraucherzentrale.de/wissen/lebensmittel/lebensmittelproduktion/recyclingcode-das-bedeuten-die-symbole-auf-verpackungen-11941,  Bundesanstalt für Geowissenschaften und Rohstoffe "Aluminium. Informationen zur Nachhaltigkeit." (2020), S. 7.
 Gesellschaft für Verpackungsmarktforschung (2020): Aufkommen und Verwertung von PET-Getränkeflaschen in Deutschland 2019. S. 16.
 Ibid (2020): Aufkommen und Verwertung von PET-Getränkeflaschen in Deutschland 2019. S. 17-19.
 Ibid (2021): Recycling von Getränkedosen. Endbericht. S. 27.
 Ibid (2020): Aufkommen und Verwertung von PET-Getränkeflaschen in Deutschland 2019. S. 33.
 Ibid (2020): Aufkommen und Verwertung von PET-Getränkeflaschen in Deutschland 2019. S. 12, 13.
 Ibid (2020): Aufkommen und Verwertung von PET-Getränkeflaschen in Deutschland 2019. S. 24.
 Gesellschaft für Verpackungsmarktforschung „Aufkommen und Verwertung von PET Getränkeflaschen in Deutschland 2019“ (2020), S.26.