Tax on fast food packaging: McDonald’s disputes with Tübingen

Status: 18.01.2022 08:11

If you want to eat fries on the go in Tübingen, you will have to pay a tax for a bowl or disposable cutlery. Some restaurateurs react calmly – but the McDonald’s restaurant defends itself legally.

Thomas Denzel

Thomas Denzel, SWR Stuttgart

The line in front of the “Salam Box” snack bar in Tübingen is long. This should not necessarily have been expected after the introduction of a new tax. Because here, most people take food with them, and since January 1, customers pay extra for a single-use package to the price of a takeaway meal. “I’m not losing customers because of the tax,” says owner Imad Al-Samir, who has served Lebanese cuisine here for more than 20 years. Most people in Tübingen have sufficient environmental awareness and therefore understand the new requirements, he believes.

Tax up to 1.50 euros per meal

A tax of 50 cents for disposable packaging or a disposable drinking cup, 20 cents for disposable cutlery – a maximum of €1.50 per meal. The tax is levied on everything that is clearly taken out: hot or cold dishes sold together with cutlery. And for salad, if you already have it. Catering enterprises pay tax to the city at the end of the year and have the right to transfer it to their customers. However, at Imad Al-Samir Snack Bar, you have a choice. You can also rent reusable dishes with a deposit or bring your own. Then it is not taxable.

Many fast food establishments in Tübingen now offer similar offers. And almost everyone standing in line for lunch at Salam Box these days actually has their own homemade plastic box under their arm. Among them are many young students and some who openly admit that it was actually the tax that made the difference. “I’ve always had a bad conscience about using single-use packaging,” says Daniel David, who fills his lunch with a plastic bowl he brought with him. But I bought it only when it was clear that the tax was going away.

Subsidy when switching to reusable

“We only charge the costs that would otherwise fall on the city and the general public: the costs of disposing of packaging waste,” says Tübingen Mayor Boris Palmer of the Greens. Last year, Tübingen spent €700,000 on waste disposal in the city centre, most of which was takeaway packaging. The mayor hopes to halve this amount.

Hundreds of businesses were affected by the tax in Tübingen: gas stations, cafes, snack bars, bakeries, butchers. If you switch to a reusable system, you may qualify for a grant from the city. They receive up to 500 euros for the purchase of dishes, up to 1,000 euros for a dishwasher – still cheaper than all the garbage, the city administration hopes.

Environmental aid hopes for imitators

Imad Al-Samir also received money from the city and is proud to be part of the new idea. He is convinced that there is already an improvement in the waste situation. “When I walk around Tübingen, I see this. Until now, the garbage cans were always full, now there are much less of them.” German Environmental Aid (DUH) also welcomes the Tübingen model and hopes that it will take root across the country.

But not everyone is optimistic. Not even all customers at Imbiss Al-Samira. Lara Kegs, for example, is skeptical. It also comes with its own plastic box. But she doesn’t think the tax will convince many. “Those who don’t care about the environment just pay the tax. I don’t think it will do much good,” she is afraid.

Is the city exceeding its authority?

And there is a headwind from Germany’s largest fast food supplier, McDonald’s. A local restaurant is suing the Mannheim Administrative Court against the Tübingen system. This is a question of whether the city really has the right to collect the tax. At the same time, however, McDonald’s plans to introduce its own reusable system in Germany and has now announced, amid the dispute with Palmer, that it also wants to test it at the Tübingen restaurant. Products packaged in this way will not be subject to tax.

“With the new reusable option and the support of our guests, we can now make our city even more sustainable,” explains restaurant franchisee Suzanne Heppert. “McDonald’s can’t decide if it wants to be green or if it wants to be a dinosaur,” says Boris Palmer. In principle, he has nothing against McDonald’s. “They can open a second restaurant here.” The company’s reusable test is limited to beverage cups and desserts, but Palmer says he’s excited about it. Any step in this direction should be welcomed.

However, the dispute will probably be brought to court in March. Palmer doesn’t expect his tax to be tipped there. Until then, everything will continue as planned.

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