“It was in the summer, there were many deposit collectors looking for empty bottles in the parks. They all loved the idea of a platform.” Jonas Kakoschke
"Most of the people I found were actually retired people or people without a job. Not the stereotypical homeless people." Jonas Kakoschke
It’s a sad sight you might encounter in Berlin: the people checking trashcans looking for bottles with deposit money. These ‘pfandsammlers’ or ‘deposit collectors’ spend days searching for empty beer and plastic bottles and return them to the supermarket to collect the little deposit money.
Jonas Kakoschke (30), like many others, didn’t like this common sight on the streets of Berlin. At the same time, the communications design student saw the pile of empty bottles after a party in his home. “I was joking to a friend that it would be so great if I would have the phone number of one of these bottle collectors so he or she could come and have them. I would get rid of the bottles, and they would get the money.”
The idea was still in the back of his head when he got an assignment at university in 2011 to design a project called ‘from analogue to digital’. He decided to build a platform called ‘Pfand Geben’ (‘Give Deposit’), where people could find the phone numbers of bottle collectors in their neighbourhood. For market research he went to parks. “It was in the summer, there were many deposit collectors looking for empty bottles in the parks. I just went to them and asked what they would think about a platform like this. They all loved it.”
Talking to the collectors, Jonas also found out that the classic stereotypes about bottle collectors weren’t true. “Many people thought they wouldn’t have mobile phones for example, because they think these are homeless people. But most of the people I found were actually retired people or people without a job, living on social welfare. They just didn’t get enough to make a living.”
Soon after the website went online, it was picked up by national media. Jonas: “It was crazy! And really good for the project of course. Local, free newspapers also published stories about it and that’s how the bottle collectors were reached. Soon people started registering.” At the moment, about 1500 bottle collectors Germany-wide can be found on the website.
Not everybody was as happy about the project though. “Some people thought, there you go, another student who wants to fight poverty. Or people who said this was just fighting the symptoms of a social problem and not getting to the cause. But if this makes the lives of some people a bit easier, that’s great right?”
A big hurdle for some ‘bottle givers’ however might be to actually pick up the phone and call a stranger – a stranger with all these negative stereotypes. “If people really don’t want to meet a bottle collector they could also put their bottles on the street and call one of them – it stays relatively anonymous then.” That’s however not what Jonas would do. “A nice side effect of this project is that people from very different backgrounds get in touch with each other. I think that can only be positive.”
But even better to Jonas are the bottle collectors who unsubscribe from the website. “When they don’t need the deposit money anymore, if they find a job and can make a decent living – that’s just great.”
Once, a local newspaper followed a bottle collector on her way looking for the used bottles. “The woman was going through a tough time, she lost her job and didn’t get enough unemployment money to live off. She kept repeating she would really love to get a normal job again, so that she could stop looking for bottles. A week later, an employer called the reporter and got in touch with her. He offered her a job! She unsubscribed from our website, thanking us for helping her getting through a difficult time,” Jonas tells with a big smile.
At the moment, the graphic designer is working on other projects. “The website doesn’t need that much work anymore, so I am now working on graphic design projects with friends from university.” He is renovating their new office space in heart of Berlin Wedding.
Pfand Geben will always be there however, and the idea is spreading to other countries. In Denmark people asked for permission to run a similar website – it’s going well. All of this coming from a university assignment. Did he get a good mark on his assignment? Jonas laughs. “I got an A. But I don’t think my professor had a choice with all the media coverage I got.”