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the bottle collectors

Flaschen PfandWhen you walk around in China, you can find people walking around and collecting empty bottles. I always thought this phenomenon only exists in not-yet industrialized countries. The people are so poor that collecting those bottles and selling them to a garbage dealer allows them to make enough money to survive. But during the last few weeks, I began seeing the same phenomenon in Berlin, Germany.

Because social welfare exists in Germany, I thought that there will be no need to do this kind of dirty work in Germany. Welfare includes a lot of things, even a television. For a not working family with 3 children, they would get around € 1000 + rent, which is more than enough to survive. So it was quite astonishing to see a Turkish mother and her 3 daughters crawling through the garbage containers looking for bottles. At first I thought they were looking for something they accidentally threw away, but when I got closer to throw away my garbage, I saw how one of the girls fished a bottle out and happily presented it to her mother.

Yesterday, I was sitting in the train to go ice skating with my girlfriend. I saw a Turkish guy wandering through the wagon like he is looking for something he lost. I didn’t pay much attention to him until he picked up a plastic bottle and put it into his plastic bag. He wasn’t clothed badly, so I wondered why people needed doing something like that.

One bottle can be returned for 25 cent, so when you are able to collect 4, you get € 1. Now when I buy something to drink, I am always too lazy to return the bottle, so it ends up in the garbage. I am probably not the only one doing so, so I think they can approximately find 2 bottles in each garbage container and 1 bottle in every third garbage can. In average, you will probably need 5 minutes for each container or 1 minute for each garbage can. Let’s see how their hourly earnings are: 12 containers * 2 bottles/container * 25 cent/bottle = € 6 or 60 cans * 0,33 bottles/can * 25 cent/bottle = € 5! Wait, that is more than an average waiter earns per hour… Doing this a whole day will get you around at least € 40, a week without breaks would be € 280 and for a month € 1120! That is more than they would receive from welfare, meaning they would have untaxed 2000€ to spend each month and don’t even need to pay the rent.

I haven’t seen any Germans do this job, but it seems like some Turkish people have overcome their sham and live this way.

3 Responses to “the bottle collectors”

  1. bernie:

    Hi Qianqin.
    I read with intrest this post on bottle collecting. Man you are so right, I live in Canada and have been to several of the provinces here and have seen the same thing here the people vari here in so far that they are Chineese, Vietnamese, EastIndians, etc, and again vari from just normal people, to poor, homeless,drunks and druggies.
    Here you have to collect a lot more than 4 cans or bottles to get the equavalent of one C$ because a can or bottle is recycled for only 0.5 cents.
    I have seen people like you have, with plastic garbage bags collecting, then there is the bicycle guys with baskets & bags,even others with wheel barrows, and the guy here who is the most enterprising or rich from his collections he has a car, though beat up and dirty he has it painted with all kinds of colour and drives it around picking up empties all around the city.
    Why, I even know that hotels etc. collect their empties and sell them to these guys for a smaller refund of cash and these guys take it to the recycle depot and get full refunds which is untaxed cash in their pockets.
    Long Live Recycling it makes for less garbage dumped and makes the world greener. He! He! He!

  2. Qian Qin:

    That’s funny, collecting bottles and cans with a car. I’d love to see that. ;)

  3. Reduce plastic waste :: PlasticLess.com » Blog Archive » The Microeconomics of Plastic Waste:

    [...] perspective from a Chinese blogger who is spending time in Europe. Qian Qin was surprised to see bottle collectors in Berlin and he decided to do the math. He determined that they were rivaling local waiters in potential [...]