German recycling system branded illegal

Germany's packaging recycling system has been declared illegal and unfair to foreign drink firms in a ruling from the European Court of Justice.

In its judgement the Court makes it clear that the deposit/return system for drinks packaging is permissible only if all the producers and retailers concerned can actually take part in an operational return system. Germany introduced the compulsory deposits on non-reusable drinks containers in 2003 as quotas for refillable bottles were not being met.

However, the ECJ found that not enough time was given to allow mineral water producers to adjust to the rules and introduce refillable bottles.

Despite the ruling, the ECJ did find that deposit/return systems for single use packaging made environmental sense and were likely to increase the return rate for empty packaging, thus contributing to improved recycling of waste.

Furthermore, the Court found that promoting reusable packaging contributes to reducing the amount of packaging waste to be disposed of.

The system was criticised for simply being brought in too quickly – the transition period was only six months. In the Court’s view the period needs to be at least long enough to ensure a smooth transition from the present system.

The judgement concerns only the situation of natural mineral water imported into Germany in single use packaging. Since it is obligatory for natural mineral water to be bottled at source, imported foreign mineral waters – and subsequently the empty packaging – generally have to be transported over long distances which lead to high freight costs. These costs become extremely prohibitive when using glass, reusable bottles. As a result, foreign producers prefer single use packaging, which costs less to transport.

By David Hopkins

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