C2 Background
German environmental organisation DUH criticises loopholes in the compulsory offer of reusable packaging

09.01.2023 According to Deutsche Umwelthilfe (DUH), the obligation to offer reusable containers in the gastronomy sector, which came into force in Germany on 1 January 2023, threatens to lead to nothing in its current form. It is the right approach that catering businesses must also offer ready-to-eat food and beverages in reusable packaging.

Deutsche Umwelthilfe criticises exemptions and the lack of discrimination against environmentally damaging disposables in the new mandatory reusable offer.
© Photo: DUH
Deutsche Umwelthilfe criticises exemptions and the lack of discrimination against environmentally damaging disposables in the new mandatory reusable offer.

However, the regulation does not specify how much reusable packaging should be used, nor does it discriminate financially against disposable packaging that is harmful to the environment and the climate.

In order for as many people as possible to switch to reusable drinks, DUH demands a levy of at least 20 cents on disposable tableware. This is claimed to be the only way to give customers a real incentive to prefer reusable to disposable. The environmental and consumer protection association recommends that the catering industry use standard reusable cups and food boxes across companies. This makes reusable more efficient in handling and the return easier for consumers. In addition, the obligation to offer reusable containers must be consistently monitored by the lower waste authorities and trade supervisory authorities.

"Financial equality is not enough"

DUH national director Barbara Metz: "If reusable is to become the new standard for ready-to-eat beverages and meals in the catering industry, then financial equality compared to disposable is not enough – because without subsequent improvements, the disposable variant remains easier to use. That is why we demand the use of uniform reusable systems and a levy of at least 20 cents on disposable cups, boxes and cutlery. This will make the more environmentally friendly reusable option more attractive than disposable. The municipal single-use packaging tax in Tübingen has already impressively proven that reusable can be successfully promoted in this way."

DUH is also critical of various exemptions, for example for small businesses: Those who have up to five employees and at the same time no more than 80 square metres of sales space can also fulfil the reusable offer obligation by filling containers customers have brought with them – the provision of their own reusable packaging is then not required. This eliminates thousands of dispensing points. In addition, there are loopholes for one-way packaging made of pure cardboard and aluminium. For example, catering businesses that use pizza boxes or disposable aluminium trays do not have to offer reusable packaging or fill reusable containers brought in.

Information for consumers is key

The successful use of the reusable offer depends decisively on whether consumers also receive information on this. From January 2023, catering establishments are obliged to inform customers about the respective reusable offer by means of clearly visible and legible information boards.

Thomas Fischer, DUH head of Circular Economy: "Up to now, reusable packaging has hardly been advertised at all and has often led a niche existence. This has to change. We call on retailers to actively point out reusable alternatives to customers, even beyond signs. To this end, employees in particular must be trained and sensitised to verbally draw attention to reusable packaging. The catering industry had more than a year to prepare for the obligation to offer reusable packaging. Now there are no more excuses. We will look very closely at the implementation of the information obligation and the design of the reusable offer and take legal action against violations."