German deposit and return system for one-way packaging under Commission fire

According to the Commission, the German deposit and return system for non-refillable drinks packaging restricts imports from foreign producers and is therefore not in line with internal market rules.

On 21 October, the Commission decided to send Germany a formal request for more information on this packaging deposit system. It does not contest the principle of setting up the system which, it states, “can be beneficial for environmental protection objectives”.

The Commission objects to the German system for two major reasons:

  • there is no “properly functioning nationwide return system allowing consumers to return such one-way packaging to any point of sale to recover the deposits paid”;
  • and “the current system encourages the development of specific packaging, as some retailers try to reduce the scope of their legal obligation to take back used packaging and refund deposits”.

 

Positions

German environment minister Jürgen Trittinunderlined in a first reaction that the Commission has not called into question the integrity of the deposit and return system. He stated that the Commission's move will not postpone the effective introduction of the system from 1 January 2004. He also said that he was not worried about a possible Court case later.

 

Background

In early 2003, the German government introduced a system of mandatory deposits for drinks packaged in disposable cans or bottles ('one-way' packaging). The system was introduced, for environmental reasons, to stimulate the use of refillable drinks packaging.

Under this new German law, a mandatory deposit of at least 0.25 or 0.50 euro is being charged on drinks sold in disposable (one-way) packaging (eg cans and plastic bottles).

As a result of this new system, retailers in Germany have taken drinks imported from other countries off their shelves because there is no effective return system and therefore consumers cannot get their deposits back.

 

Timeline

  • Germany has two months to respond to the Commission's request;
  • if the Commission is not satisfied with Germany's reaction after those two months, it can send a formal request to change the system (a 'reasoned opinion');
  • if Germany still does not come into line after that second step, the case can be taken to the European Court of Justice.

 

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