Water is turned into beer in German recycling miracle

Berlin duo achieve the transformation after spotting a loophole in bottle deposit system

The Beck brewery bottling plant in Bremen,  Germany. Photograph: Joerg Sarbach

The Beck brewery bottling plant in Bremen, Germany. Photograph: Joerg Sarbach


Almost two millennia after Jesus Christ turned water into wine, two men in Germany have turned water into beer, with no brewing required.

How they did it is linked to Germany’s embrace of recycling, in particular of drinks bottles. It’s a parable worth heeding as Ireland discusses the return of deposit bottles, the EU steps up its war on plastic and China begins to close its ports to the world’s waste.

Germans are no angels on the plastic front. Each year, they produce 37kg of plastic waste per head – six kilos above the EU average. According to the latest Eurostat figures, the only EU member states that produce more plastic waste are Estonia, (46.5kg), Luxembourg (52kg) and – first place – Ireland (61kg).

While half of Germany’s plastic waste is either incinerated or exported, the remainder is recycled. Playing a major role is the drink container recycling system. It sparked legal challenges and protests when introduced in 2003, with Angela Merkel, the then opposition leader, calling it “madness”.

But in the 15 years since, cans have become a rare sight and bottle recycling is now part of daily life. Consumers get between eight and 25 cent for bottles, depending on their size and whether they are plastic or glass, payable via a receipt which can be set against grocery shopping or donated to charity.

So what of turning water into beer? The miracle took place recently at a Berlin supermarket, where two men used food stamps, forbidden for alcohol, to buy a dozen bottles of water.

Outside, the men emptied the water on the grass, headed back in and recycled the bottles. After collecting their €3 deposit, they bought five cans of beer at 29 cent a go plus 25 cent deposit each.

Enjoying their drink outside on a chilly day, they could warm themselves twice over: not only were they being environmentally friendly, but the state was paying the tab.