The mandatory German return and deposit scheme for non-reusable drinks packages hinders the free movement of goods and has therefore been ruled illegal as it affects mostly producers from other EU member states, the European Court of Justice announced on 14 December.
Environment Commissioner Stavros Dimas said the judgment now "makes it clear on what terms Germany can require reusable packaging without infringing single market rules".
Under the German scheme, introduced in 2002, producers and distributors have to charge consumers with a deposit on single-use drinks packaging and accept the used packaging in return.
But EU judges backed claims from French producers of mineral water and the Commission, who said the scheme conflicted with other EU rules that require mineral water to be bottled at the source. This, they argued, creates additional transport costs on foreign producers who make up for this disadvantage by using single-use instead of reusable packaging.
The court said that producers and distributors were not being given sufficient time to adapt.
In a separate judgement, relating to other aspects of the German deposit scheme, the court added that there should also be "a sufficient number of return points so that consumer […] can recover the deposit even if they do not go back to the initial place of purchase". Not enough of those were available, according to the court.
The court ruling was welcomed by the Association of European Producers of Steel for Packaging (APEAL) and by EUROPEN, the European organisation for packaging and the environment.