German refill quota under legal attack

Industry coalition launches court action to prevent triggering of one-way container deposits

A coalition of German breweries, mineral water companies and retailers has launched court action in a last-ditch attempt to prevent introduction of deposits on several kinds of disposable drinks' containers next summer. The firms claim there is no legal basis for the measure, which they say treats drinks packaging in unfairly.

Germany's 1991 packaging ordinance requires deposits to be introduced on types of drinks containers where the share of refillables on the market falls below 72% in two recorded years. This first happened in 1997 (ENDS Daily 20 November 1998). A second recorded breach - for 1999 - is expected to be announced next spring, triggering automatic introduction of deposits a few months later on non-refillable beer, wine and mineral water containers.

German retailing association HDE and the other members of the coalition argue that the first recorded breach of the quota was too small to rule out statistical error - the share of refillables in 1997 was 71.33%. An HDE spokesperson told ENDS Daily that independent estimates put the margin of error at up to 1.7%, while even the environment ministry accepted that it was 1%. The companies are bidding to get the 1997 market share statistics ruled invalid, which would prevent the 1999 count from triggering deposits.

The German environment ministry hit back yesterday, describing the legal action as "an inappropriate attempt by the one-way lobby to overturn valid environmental law". In any case, it concluded, the firms' court action would lead into "a void" whatever the outcome of the case since the refillables quota and associated deposits on particular kinds of one-way containers is due to be scrapped under a proposal announced in October (ENDS Daily 25 October).

Under this, the ministry now intends to impose deposits on all "ecologically disadvantageous" drinks packaging, no longer focusing just on refillables versus one-way containers.

The HDE spokesperson cautioned that the new approach might well not become law in time because the government still had to get its proposed new ordinance through Germany's long-winded law-making process. It was far from certain whether this could happen before deposits would have to be introduced under the existing law.

Follow Up:
HDE, tel: + 49 30 72 62 50 66; Agvu, tel: +49 228 9949290 and press release with list of plaintiffs; German environment ministry, tel: +49 30 28550 and press release.

Please sign in to access this article. To subscribe, view our subscription options, or take out a free trial.

Please enter your details

Forgotten password?

Having trouble signing in?

Contact Customer Support at
or call 020 8267 8120

Not a subscriber?

Take a free trial now to discover the critical insights and updates our coverage offers subscribers.