Restaurants, bistros, and cafes that offer to-go drinks and takeaway food in Germany must offer their products also in reusable packaging by 2023, according to the new packaging law amendment. This obligation also applies to food delivery services.
Mr Christian Reuter from The German Hotel and Restaurant Association expects the new law amendment to become a problem for a lot of businesses in a highly diverse German hospitality market. The new obligation will go along well with some business models but there will be restaurants with no customer demand for reusable packaging, he said.
“To implement the reusable food container systems into the business models…can be a financial burden, and keep in mind that in Germany, we are in a hard lockdown since November now,” Reuter said. Complying with a German hygiene law while offering reusable packaging like filling multi-way coffee cups, can be an additional challenge for businesses.
The regulation does not apply to restaurants and cafes not greater than 80 square meters with no more than five employees. Owners must enable their customers to fill their own multi-way containers.
This exemption was the desire of the ruling Chancellor Merkel’s party to avoid putting even more strain on smaller companies, according to the MP from the Social Democratic Party (SPD) Dr. Johannes Fechner. Fechner’s party is currently one of the two ruling political parties in Germany along with the Christian Democratic Union of Germany (CDU). Those have no savings to invest quickly in this scheme and have suffered enough due to the coronavirus pandemic.
„Nevertheless, in the medium term, we must demand environmental and climate protection from all companies regardless of the size,“ the SPD politician said.
The German Government has announced a ban on plastic cutlery, straws, stirrers and plastic-stemmed cotton buds. The sale of to-go cups and disposable containers made of styrofoam will be no longer allowed. The new regulation will apply on 3 July 2021 and aims to contain the flood of plastic waste in the country.
Criticism from the opposition and environmentalists
„It is not enough to oblige coffee house chains and bakeries to offer a multi-way alternative parallel to the disposable solutions. Because this situation has been already existing – with the effect that the coffee in the multi-way cup still remains a niche product,” the Greens MP Hoffmann said.
The reusable cups should not be more expensive than a single-use one, according to the new regulation. For the opposition party, it is not enough. The reusable variant should be always the cheapest offer, the opposition politician Hoffmann suggested instead.
“We need reusable packaging to be the new standard,” Janine Korduan from the BUND – Friends of the Earth Germany said. “It is still a niche, and it will also be afterwards the niche because… there are no ambitious measures in the adopted law”.
SPD MP Fechner partially agreed: “Harsher measures could have been taken, “but on the other side the new regulation is the important step in the right direction.” “The Greens nags always, you cannot do anything right,” the SPD MP claimed. “You cannot always get 100% if we get 80% then it’s ok”.
Consequences for retail
The amendment should also help reduce packaging waste in online retail. The companies are now required to participate in the disposal costs for their packaging.
There have been compulsory deposits on certain types of one-way beverage packaging for 20 years in Germany. It will now apply to the disposable drink bottles, which have been exempted from it so far, such as non-carbonated fruit juice or alcoholic mixed drinks.
Ms Korduan from the Friends of the Earth Germany welcomes deposit on more beverages packaging. The Senior Program Officer for Circular Economy, however, regards the new regulation as weak on specific timeframes and sanctions if the quota is not fulfilled.
“We demand a high quota for reusable packaging for beverages, another packaging in the supermarkets, business-to-business trade, and online retail,” she said. “The existing quota of 70% for beverages packaging is not fulfilled at all and there are no sanctions or measures that would direct in the right way”.
For milk and milk products packaging, obligatory deposits will apply only from 2024. “Milk lobby was very strong,” the officer at BUND, part of the world’s largest environmental network, explained.
Produced waste and disposal costs
Cities and municipalities collect and dispose of about 140 litres of street trash per inhabitant and year in Germany, according to the study commissioned by the German Association of Towns and Municipalities.
Seven hundred million euros each year costs cleaning the streets of cigarette butts, to-go cups, and other disposable plastic products.
Around 120 million euros per year alone goes to the costs of disposal of plastic to-go cups. The removal of cigarette butts accounts for about 225 million euros.
More than 40 per cent of this waste accounts for plastics and packaging. Much of this would be avoidable if the manufacturers would consider more sustainable design and multi-way products.
Germans consume around 320,000 disposable cups for hot drinks hourly, of which up to 140,000 cups “to-go”. It is three billion disposable cups a year, according to the Federal Ministry for the Environment, Nature Conservation and Nuclear Safety.
With the new packaging, law amendment manufacturers and retailers must also pay the cleaning costs of waste collection and disposal in parks and streets. The cleaning costs have paid citizens on local fees so far.
What else is behind the new law amendment?
The amendment of the German packaging law is not an initial idea of the Government but rather the result of a gradual implementation of the EU directive.
The directive was adopted in May 2019 to curb the environmental pollution in Europe and single-use plastic products. It must be implemented in national law within two years.
For the first time, the EU directive stipulates the financial responsibility of manufacturers of certain disposable plastic products for the municipal cleaning costs caused by these products.