What restaurateurs need to know about the reusability obligation 2023

On 1 January 2023, the reusability obligation comes into effect in the hospitality industry – in Germany, at least. And of course, there are exceptions. But what applies to whom – also with regard to other European countries that are ready to go in regards to reusability?

Refillable to go cup in a cafe

Single-use plastic legislation and reusability legislation – what’s the difference?

Single-use plastic products have already been prohibited since 3 July 2021, for example drinking straws and single-use dishes made from conventional plastic or polystyrene. These are no longer allowed to be produced and brought into circulation, but residual stock can be still be used up. Within the new packaging law in Germany, the reusability obligation is therefore the next statutory step in reducing the use of plastic.

Why is a reusability obligation needed anyway?

Quite simply because we are producing too much plastic waste. Germany alone generates 770 tonnes of packaging waste every day through single-use takeaway packaging. In order to reduce the impact of waste on the environment, legislators are handing greater responsibility to companies and consumers. The way forward is more sustainable packaging. One step in this direction is the use of long-life packaging materials. For the HoReCa sector, this means – at least in Germany – a statutory reusability obligation from 1 January 2023.

What does this mean exactly? A few facts and figures:

It means that from 1 January 2023, restaurateurs are obliged to offer their customers reusable containers for food and drinks. Sustainable single-use containers from renewable materials, such as cardboard or palm leaf, can still be used but the customer must be offered a choice. Furthermore, reusable containers must not be more expensive than single-use containers and they must be issued via a deposit or pooling scheme. 

And this really applies to everyone? 

Yes and no. As is so often the case, there are exceptions to this law. The magic numbers are 5 and 80. The law applies primarily to large hospitality providers, but also to other companies like staff canteens if they have a (shop) area of at least 80 square metres and employ more than 5 people. Smaller 1-person operations, such as snack bars or kiosks with food service counters, are not required to offer reusable containers. 

What solutions are available?

Anyone who regularly buys food to go, or even just picks up a coffee on the way to work, will have already noticed that reusable solutions and deposit schemes managed through provider apps are already in use. However, in Germany, there are currently a great many (and maybe too many?) individual regional solutions. Not always best for the end consumer. For example, a customer purchasing a reusable bowl for a 5 € deposit in Wilhelmshaven to take something tasty on a train journey won’t necessarily be able to return this bowl at home in Düsseldorf. So the consumer is left with both the cost for the bowl and the bowl itself, at least for the time being.

Germany as a model for other European countries?

The reusability obligation in Germany is the first of its kind. It could be considered a model for other – primarily European – countries. In France, all hospitality industry facilities must offer their customers reusable dishes from 1 January 2023, although ‘only’ for meals served onsite, which to date have largely been offered in non-recyclable plastic packaging. The Netherlands is also making comparable efforts. From 1 July 2023, companies there are obliged to offer their customers reusable alternatives to plastic packaging. At the same time, takeaways in free plastic packaging from supermarkets and the hospitality industry are prohibited. In line with the EU-wide ‘Green Deal’ strategy, a multinational approach to make the economy more circular and reduce plastic waste, it can be assumed that other countries will implement reusable solutions.

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