German drinks packaging debate heats up

All sides try to find new consensus as deadline nears for obligatory deposits on one-way packaging

The German government is straining to find a new consensus on how to protect the national market share of refillable drinks packaging as the chances grow that it will be forced to impose mandatory deposits on certain types of one-way containers.

Under Germany's 1991 packaging ordinance, refillable packaging is required to have at least a 72% share of the German drinks market, failing which deposits must be imposed on packaging from sectors that fail to meet the quota. After staying above 72% for most of the 1990s, the share of refillables dropped to 71.4% in 1997 (ENDS Daily 20 November 1998) and looks set to fall further.

According to unpublished figures, the 1998 share was 70.1%, while the 1999 share is projected to be around 68%, confirming an accelerating decline in refillables' use. If the 1999 figures (actually covering February 1999 to January 2000) are confirmed, then deposits are likely to be in force before the end of 2001, most likely affecting packaging for fruit juices, wine, and milk in both bottles and cartons.

The problem for German policy makers is that the deposit provision in the packaging ordinance is now being attacked not only by the packaging industry, which always opposed it, but by pro-refill industry groups and environmental NGOs. The government is therefore trying to find a way out while still protecting refillables on the German market.

Talks have been underway for some time between the environment ministry and coalitions representing the packaging industry and pro-refillable interests such as the beer sector. Environmental groups are lending vocal support to the discussions, calling again this week for the existing quota/deposit policy to be replaced with high levies on "less environmentally friendly" types of packaging. Other options under discussion include maintaining the quota but reducing its level by up to ten percentage points, or replacing it with a fixed minimum volume of drinks to be delivered in refillable packaging.

Germany's refill quota is controversial at European level as well as domestically. The European Commission has long been considering whether it breaches single market provisions of the 1994 packaging directive, but has been unable to agree whether to take legal action (ENDS Daily 26 January).

Follow Up:
German environment ministry tel: +49 30 28550.

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