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Pfand Questions and Answers on compulsory deposits in Germany

As of 1 January, 2003 deposits on one-way drinks packaging is compulsory. Since 1 May 2006 this has applied to mineral water, beer, soft drinks and mixed alcoholic drinks. The deposit system has increased the reusable share and put an end to the throwaway mentality. Below is a summary of the main aspects of the applicable compulsory deposit.

When deposits are charged

Which one-way drinks packaging is subject to the compulsory deposit?

With the entry into force of the Third Ordinance Amending the Packaging Ordinance on 28 May 2005, the compulsory deposit in effect since 1 January 2003 was simplified and modernised. According to the new regulation, a deposit must be charged on non-ecologically advantageous one-way packaging with a filling volume of 0.1 to 3 litres.

Whether or not a drink in non-ecologically advantageous one-way packaging falls within the scope of the compulsory deposit is determined by section 9 (2) of the Packaging Ordinance. The following overview is a non-binding guide to which drinks are subject to a deposit.

Since 1 May 2006, the following drinks have been subject to a deposit if packaged in non-ecologically advantageous one-way drinks packaging with a filling volume of 0.1 to 3 litres:

Beer

Beer drinks, including mixed drinks containing beer. These include alcohol-free beer, cola-beer or soda-beer drinks, beer with syrup (such as Berliner Weiße with a shot of syrup), beer mixed with other alcoholic drinks (such as beer with vodka) and flavoured beer (for example tequila-flavoured beer). Compliance with the purity requirement is not the deciding factor.

Mineral water

All water drinks, in other words sparkling and still mineral water, spring water, spa water, table water and other waters, such as “near-water products”, irrespective of the additives (including flavoured water, water with caffeine and water with oxygen).

Carbonated and non-carbonated soft drinks

Besides cola and sodas, these include

  • mixed drinks containing fruit juice or teas and mineral water (such as sparkling apple juice)
  • sports drinks
  • so-called energy drinks
  • tea and coffee drinks intended for consumption as cold drinks
  • bitter drinks and other carbonated and non-carbonated drinks.

Alcoholic mixed drinks (especially so-called alcopops) Drinks

  • produced using
    • products which are subject to spirits tax under section 130 (1) of the Federal Spirits
      Monopoly Act or
    • fermentation alcohol made from beer, wine or wine-like products, including in
      processed form, which has been processed using technology which no longer meets
      the requirements for good manufacturing practice and containing less than 15 percent
      alcohol or
  • – containing less than 50 percent wine or wine-like products, including in processed form.

Which sorts of one-way drinks packaging require deposit?

One-way drinks packaging that is not categorised as ecologically advantageous packaging pursuant to section 3 (4) of the Packaging Ordinance is generally subject to the deposit.

Which one-way drinks packaging don’t I have to pay a deposit on?

Irrespective of the content, no deposit is charged on one-way drinks packaging that is recognised as ecologically advantageous within the meaning of section 3 (4) of the Packaging Ordinance.

These are

  • drinks carton packaging (brick packs, gable-top cartons, cylindrical packaging)
  • drinks packaging in the form of polyethylene bags
  • stand-up bags.

Also, there is a transitional period lasting until 31 December 2012 in which there is no compulsory deposit for one-way drinks packaging made of biodegradable plastics containing at least 75 percent renewable raw materials if the producer or distributor participates in a dual system.

There is also no deposit on one-way drinks packaging with a volume of under 0.1 litres or over 3.0 litres.

Furthermore, no deposit is charged on one-way drinks packaging not listed in section 89 (2) of the Packaging Ordinance (cf. A1) or on packaging expressly exempt from the compulsory deposit. These are in particular:

  • fruit juices, fruit nectars, vegetable juices and vegetable nectars
  • milk or other drinks with a milk base (drinks with a minimum of 50 per cent milk or other milk derived products).
  • dietetic drinks within the meaning of section 1 (1) of the Ordinance on Dietetic Foodstuffs that
    are exclusively intended for infants and young children
  • wine, sparkling wine and spirits.

The categorisation of these drinks groups is based on food law provisions. For drinks that fall into the category of soft drinks, one-way packaging of certain dietetic drinks is not subject to the compulsory deposit.

Why wasn’t there a deposit on one-way drinks packaging made of bio-degradable plastics
containing at least 75 percent renewable raw materials before 2013?

In the transitional period lasting until 31 December 2012, there was no compulsory deposit to promote plastic drinks packaging that are biodegradable and contain at least 75 percent renewable raw materials. This special regulation did not prove effective. It was not extended. Since 2013 the general rules also apply to these packages.

Why isn’t there a deposit on one-way drinks packaging with a volume of under 0.1 litres or
over 3.0 litres?

There is no deposit on one-way drinks packaging with a volume of under 0.1 litres or over 3.0 litres, because no alternative reusables system exists. Containers that size are not suitable for return in standard commercial reverse vending machines. The economic cost of constructing a return system for these container sizes in not justified by the environmental benefits (cf. BR-Drs 919/04).

Why isn’t there a deposit on one-way packaging for juice, milk, wine or spirits?

In general, the deposit is due on all one-way drinks packaging with a volume of 0.1 litres to 3.0 litres, which are not classified as ecologically beneficial. The compulsory deposit is, however, limited to those kinds of drinks for which the environmental benefit justifies the economic cost and construction of a return and deposit system. The high costs of a return and deposit system is only justified when the market volume is high enough to make the establishment of an efficient and comprehensive system or the participation in one possible. This is true for the kinds of drinks listed in section 9 (2) of the Packaging Ordinance, i.e. beer, mineral water, soft drinks and mixed alcoholic drinks, which together hold the lion’s share of the drinks market. In contrast, market sectors such as milk, wine, spirits, and fruit and vegetable juices have particular features that would lead to an imbalance between the environmental benefit and the cost of establishing a return and deposit system. For this reason, compulsory deposits are only justified for the drinks segments listed first.

Why isn’t there a deposit on one-way packaging for certain dietetic drinks?

Deposits are also compulsory for dietetic drinks. Only dietetic drinks that are exclusively intended for infants and young children are exempt from the deposit. The reason for this exception is concern for the special nutritional requirements of this category of persons.

How much is the deposit?

There is a standard deposit of 25 cent on all one-way drinks packaging subject to the compulsory deposit.

What is the procedure for dealing with imported drinks?

Imported one-way drinks packaging is subject to the compulsory deposit to the same degree
as drinks packaging filled in Germany. In other words, the distributors must charge a deposit,
take back and recycle packaging.

Is the export of one-way drinks packaging exempt from the compulsory deposit?

Export goods are exempt from the deposit. Export goods are drinks packaging sold to final consumers outside of Germany. In contrast, drinks in one-way packaging sold to end consumers within Germany are subject to a deposit, even if they are taken abroad directly after purchase.

Is a deposit charged for so-called gift cans and promotional cans?

Yes. The Packaging Ordinance does not differentiate between commercial, promotional and gift cans.

What is important when purchasing and selling?

What should consumers take into consideration when purchasing drinks?

Choose drinks in environmentally friendly packaging, i.e. reusable bottles or ecologically
advantageous one-way packaging (e.g. drinks carton packaging). Also bear in mind that
fewer transports mean less traffic and thus less environmental pollution.

Does the compulsory deposit make drinks cans and one-way bottles more expensive?

The deposit for one-way packaging is higher than the standard deposit on reusable packaging. For example, a 25-cent deposit is charged on a can of beer, whereas a reusable bottle of beer continues to have an 8-cent deposit. This is also similar for mineral water in one-litre bottles: the one-way deposit is 25 cent, the deposit for a reusable bottle only 15 cent.

Before the introduction of the compulsory deposit, consumers had the impression that drinks in reusable bottles were much more expensive – due to the deposit – than drinks in one-way packaging. This discrimination between one-way and reusable packaging has now been eliminated by the introduction of the compulsory deposit – an incentive to switch to reusables. As the deposit is reimbursed once the consumer returns the packaging, cans and one-way bottles are barely more expensive.

Who is the first in the supply chain obliged to charge a deposit?

The deposit has to be charged at all stages of distribution, from the fillers or importers as the first distributors, wholesalers and intermediate traders to the end distributor.

What happens when a retailer does not levy a deposit on one-way drink packaging that is subject to a deposit?

Retailer who do not charge a deposit are breaking the law and can be fined. The authorities
responsible for enforcing the Packaging Ordinance in the Länder are monitoring whether retailers are fulfilling their obligations.

Is value-added tax charged on the deposit?

According to section 9 of the Packaging Ordinance, the deposit totals 25 cent including turnover
tax. Since the deposit is returned in full to the consumers, they are not in fact paying any VAT.

Return and deposit reimbursement at the retail store

Where can I return one-way drinks packaging for which a deposit has been paid and claim back the deposit?

Since 1 May 2006 empty one-way bottles and that cans have been subject to a deposit can be returned to all outlets selling drinks in one-way packaging subject to a deposit. The only differentiation is according to the material, i.e. plastic, glass or metal. In other words, a retailer selling plastic and glass one-way drinks packaging subject to a deposit is obliged to take back plastic and glass packaging irrespective of where this packaging was purchased. The deposit must be reimbursed when this packaging is taken back. If a retailer does not sell drinks in cans, it is not obliged to take back cans. Shops with a small sales area (below 200 m²) can continue to restrict the taking-back of one-way packaging to the brands they stock.

Furthermore, consumers can clearly not request reimbursement of deposit if they cannot show one of the proofs of deposit. Deposit reimbursement can obviously not be demanded for drinks packaging bought before the entry into force of the compulsory deposit or bought in countries where no deposit is charged.

You can recognise one-way drinks packaging for which a deposit has been paid from the uniform nationwide DPG symbol (DPG = Deutsche Pfandsystem GmbH):

Can retailers refuse to take back packaging?

Since 1 May 2006 they have been obliged to take back all one-way drinks packaging subject to a
deposit of the type of packaging material they stock. Only shops with a small sales area (below 200 m²) can restrict the return of packaging to the brands they sell. Retailers who refuse to fulfil this requirement and do not return deposits are breaking the law and can be fined. The Länder are responsible for the enforcement of the Packaging Ordinance. Offences can be reported to the local enforcement authorities. The highest level waste authority, i.e. the environment ministries of the Länder or the senate departments for the environment can provide information as to the authority responsible.

What can I do with damaged cans and one-way bottles?

Retailers are also obliged to take back damaged one-way drinks packaging and to reimburse the deposit, manually if necessary. The deposit symbol must still be visible on the packaging, i.e. in must be clear that it is one-way packaging for which a deposit has been paid.

What about packaging sold from vending machines? Where can I return that?

Cans and one-way bottles with deposit sold from vending machines can be returned for the deposit wherever drinks in one-way packaging made of the same material are sold. In general, the owner of the vending machine must ensure that a return and refund facility is available in the vicinity of the machine. At a company site with several vending machines, it would be worth considering setting up a central return point or a reverse vending machine.

Where can I return reusable drinks packaging for which a deposit has been paid and claim back the deposit?

Whereas the Packaging Ordinance sets out requirements for deposits and returns of one-way drinks packaging, it does not include public law provisions on reusable packaging for the compulsory deposits or the obligation to take back packaging. It is in the best interest of the fillers themselves to see reusable drinks packaging returned. The respective fillers and distributors can therefore set the deposit for reusables as they see fit. The deposit agreement for reusable drinks packaging is a matter of civil law. The modalities of collecting and refunding are thus determined by the agreement between buyer and seller. This gives all parties more flexibility. Problems with deposit reimbursement in the reusables sector are thus a civil matter. Advice and assistance can be sought from your consumer advice centre.

More information is available from Arbeitskreis Mehrweg GbR (http://www.mehrweg.org).
Organisations from the field of environmental protection and nature conservation as well as German drinks trade associations are members of the Arbeitskreis Mehrweg.

In general you can recognize reusables by the reusable sign or by the “Blue Angel” eco-label:

 

or by German words on the label indicating that it is reusable, such as „Mehrweg“, „Mehrwegflasche“ „Mehrweg-Pfandflasche“ or by the raised lettering „Leihflasche“ on the bottle itself.

Management of returned one-way packaging

Who deals with returned one-way drinks packaging? Retailers, wholesalers or fillers?

In general, retailers who have taken back one-way drinks packaging in line with their obligation can give the packaging back to their suppliers, and the suppliers can in turn can pass it back along the distribution chain, right back to the fillers. They are all subject to the recovery obligation laid down in the Packaging Ordinance.

Those under obligation can, however, agree that all packaging collected by a retailer can be recovered directly. Such services are offered by many competing companies.

Who recovers one-way drinks packaging? How can I find a recovery enterprise?

Waste management enterprises take care of the recovery, which also deal with recycling other cans, glass, plastics and cardboard packaging. Information on the enterprises offering these services can be obtained from the Chambers of Commerce and Industry. They can also be found in local directories or via waste management associations.

Nationwide deposit/return system

What purpose does a nationwide deposit/return system have?

Fillers and distributors are responsible for taking back one-way packaging, the reimbursement of the deposit, the balancing out of the total of reimbursed deposits amongst themselves and the management of returned packaging. With the legal changes in mind, retailers and the drinks industry established a nationwide uniform return system, the Deutschen Pfandsystem GmbH (DPG), on 1 May2006.

How does the nationwide return system of 1 May 2006 for one-way drinks packaging for which a deposit has been paid work and deposit reimbursement work?

Since 1 May 2006 distributors of one-way drinks packaging subject to a deposit are obliged to take back all one-way drinks packaging of the material types they sell (e.g. plastic, glass, metal) and to reimburse the deposit. Only shops with a small sales area (below 200 m²) can restrict the return of one-way drinks packaging to the brands they sell.

Since 1 May 2006 all drinks cans and one-way bottles have been labelled with a uniform logo in the DPG system. A machine readable bar code and security ID are also printed on the packaging. With this labelling, when the one-way drinks packaging is returned it can be determined whether a deposit was paid at the time of sale. Of course, for empty packaging for which no deposit was paid, no reimbursement can be claimed.

What about individual solutions?

The so-called individual solutions have not been allowed since 1 May 2006. For distributors of
drinks from fillers who had opted for an individual form of packaging and were allowed to limit
returns to these drinks packages until 30 April 2006, the possibility of limiting returns has thus
expired.

What is clearing for?

A clearing house serves to balance out deposit surpluses/deficits between distributors. There are drinks retailers (highway petrol stations, for example) that sell more drinks packaging that is subject to deposit (and thus charge a deposit), than they take back empty drinking packaging. Other retailers take back more packaging than they sell and must reimburse more deposits than they have charged. Clearing balances the deposit amounts among distributors.

Is it true that the European Commission considers the compulsory deposit to be a violation of European law?

No. The European Commission did not criticise the compulsory deposit as such; it saw problems with the transitional solution up to the end of September 2003. The Commission considers these problems solved because since a nationwide return system was established on 1 May 2006, the consumer can return empty packaging not only to where it was purchased, but also to all outlets stocking the same kind of drink and because foreign drinks manufacturers are also free to participate in this system. The European Commission thus halted infringement proceedings.

Background of the Packaging Ordinance

Why was the compulsory deposit introduced on 1 January 2003?

The Packaging Ordinance, created in 1991 and amended in 1998, prescribed a compulsory deposit if the share of reusables falls below 72 percent. This happened for the first time in 1997, and the trend continued in subsequent years. To protect ecologically advantageous reusable drinks packaging, the compulsory deposit entered into force pursuant to the applicable provisions six months after the renewed publication of the data on the quota of reusables on 1 January 2003.

Why did the compulsory deposit first apply only to beer, mineral water and sodas but not to
iced tea?

Until the Third Ordinance Amending the Packaging Ordinance entered into force on 28 May 2005, the Packaging Ordinance provided for a two-stage procedure with regard to triggering the
compulsory deposit. According to this, the deposit had to be introduced if the share of reusable
drinks packaging fell below 72 percent nationwide. This was, however, only applicable to those drink sectors in which the share of reusable bottles lies below the 1991 share. The drink sectors affected were beer, mineral water and carbonated soft drinks.

Since then all drinks in one-way packaging have been subject to deposit in principle, to the extent that they are not in ecologically advantageous drinks packaging within the meaning of the Packaging Ordinance. The extension of the compulsory deposit to drinks such as non-carbonated soft drinks and alcoholic mixed drinks, especially the so-called alcopops as set out in the Third Ordinance Amending the Packaging Ordinance entered into force on 1 May 2006.

Fruit juices and fruit nectars, vegetable juices and vegetable nectars, milk or other drinks with a milk base, dietetic drinks with the exception of those used for intensive muscle-building, wines, sparkling wines and spirits are exempt from the deposit.

What changes were made by the Third Ordinance Amending the Packaging Ordinance?

With the Third Ordinance Amending the Packaging Ordinance of 24 May 2005 the German government successfully concluded its efforts, ongoing since 2001, to simplify the existing compulsory one-way deposit provisions. This Amending Ordinance also took due account of the concerns on the part of the EU Commission and the European Court of Justice regarding the compatibility of the one- way deposit provisions with EU law.

In principle, all non-ecologically advantageous one-way drinks packaging with a volume of 0.1 litres to 3.0 litres have been subject to a deposit since then. The compulsory deposit has been extended to include non-carbonated soft drinks and alcoholic mixed drinks (especially so-called alcopops). It is no longer related to reaching a quota. There is a standard charge of 25 cent.

Juices, milk, wine, spirits and ecologically advantageous one-way drinks packaging such as drink
cartons, polyethylene tubular bags and stand-up bags are not subject to a deposit.

The so-called “individual solutions” which allowed distributors and fillers to limit take-back to individual packaging they put into circulation, ended on 1 May 2006. Since then, empty one-way bottles and cans can be returned to all outlets selling one-way packaging. The only differentiation is according to the material, i.e. plastic, glass or metal.

Why aren’t drinks cans and one-way bottles just banned?

European law rules out a ban on cans and other one-way drinks packaging because such a ban
would be interference in the internal market. By introducing the one-way deposit, the German
government has chosen an economically viable, consumer-friendly instrument that is compatible with European law.

How does the compulsory deposit benefit the environment?

The share of one-way drinks packaging had constantly increased in the years before the introduction of the compulsory deposit. The market share of canned beer, for example, had doubled in the decade before the entry into force of the compulsory deposit (to 24 percent). This is worrying in ecological terms, because one-way packaging generates much more waste than the reusable alternatives, consumes more energy during the manufacturing and disposal processes and contributes more to the greenhouse effect. The aim of the deposit is to counteract these detrimental environmental impacts and to strengthen the more ecologically advantageous reusable systems.

The deposit also leads to an unmixed collection and thus to better recovery of valuable raw
materials. And finally, the compulsory deposit is an important step towards turning people away from their “throwaway” mentality. It puts an end to the littering of the landscape, streets and public places.

Are reusable drinks packaging and ecologically advantageous one-way packaging really more
environmentally sound?

Reusable bottles, whether glass or plastic, have clear environmental benefits over drinks cans and one-way bottles (reusable bottles, for example, can be refilled up to 40 times). This is the outcome of the second study by the Federal Environment Agency (UBA) on the life-cycle analysis of drinks packaging.

Such studies have also revealed that some kinds of one-way drinks packaging have a less detrimental impact on the environment during their life cycle than other one-way drinks packaging. They have thus been classified as ecologically advantageous.

A life-cycle analysis looks at the entire life cycle of drinks packaging – from the extraction of raw
materials, manufacture and transport to disposal. More information on this study can be found at http://www.umweltbundesamt.de.

Does the compulsory deposit create jobs, or will jobs be lost as a result?

In the years before the introduction of the compulsory deposit a crowding-out of reusable systems was observed, resulting in a threat to many jobs, particularly in small and medium-sized enterprises in the retail sector and the filling industry. The compulsory deposit is playing a role in keeping these jobs in the reuseables sector by stabilising reusable systems. Furthermore, the deposit is also creating jobs among manufacturers of deposit-return machines and in logistic enterprises.

Are there similar deposit systems in other countries?

A deposit has been charged on cans in Sweden since 1984 and on one-way plastic bottles since 1994. Denmark introduced a one-way deposit in October 2003, following criticism by the European Commission of the previous regulation that provided for a complete ban on certain packaging (in particular drinks cans).

Some states in the US charge a deposit on cans and one-way plastic bottles; in most cases this has been in effect for over 20 years.

Source document: https://www.bmu.de/fileadmin/Daten_BMU/Download_PDF/Abfallwirtschaft/pfandpflicht_faq_en_bf.pdf