Increasing Returns: Berlin’s Poor Collect Bottles to Make Ends Meet
Many pensioners and unemployed people in Berlin are turning to an unusual means of supplementing their meager incomes: collecting discarded deposit bottles. They can return them to stores or supermarkets for a few cents per bottle. But as the activity becomes more popular, competition among collectors has intensified.
To see Günther rummaging through trash cans in Berlin, you might assume he was homeless. But the 61-year-old is actually one of a growing number of pensioners looking to earn extra cash through bottle recycling.
Significant numbers of financially destitute people are now resorting to collecting discarded glass and plastic bottles, which carry a redeemable cash deposit, as a means of supplementing their income. But whereas the majority of those collecting used to be the homeless, alcoholics and drug addicts, more recently it is Berlin’s pensioners and long-term unemployed who are increasingly turning to the practice in order to make ends meet.
The number of pensioners resorting to bottle collecting has doubled in the last couple of years. Social experts are warning that the unhygienic practice is a symptom of an inadequate social system struggling to cope with the growing population of elderly residents in the German capital.