Stopping the waste flood in our cities and towns
The City of Tübingen (DE) responds with a truly exemplary tax on packaging
In the EU, around 177 kilograms of packaging waste per inhabitant are disposed of every year. In Germany alone, disposable packaging is responsible for approximately 830,000 tonnes of CO2 emissions and is thus a major burden on the environment and the climate. The EU and national governments are trying to stem the tide of packaging through regulations and laws. But cities and towns can also do something at the local level as the City of Tübingen has impressively demonstrated.
"We observed a dramatic increase in packaging waste In Tübingen. Take away packaging, disposable cups and dishes in particular were becoming more and more present in the cityscape. We wanted and needed to act," explains Claudia Patzwahl, packaging tax project manager for the City of Tübingen, on the decision to launch the project. The municipal packaging tax was finally introduced at the beginning of 2022, dictating a 50 cent net tax on disposable packaging and tableware as well as a 20 cent net tax on disposable cutlery. What's special about the Tübingen model? The tax targets the companies that put the packaging into circulation and can thus be seen as a supplement to existing regulations at the EU and at national levels. The city additionally flanked the introduction of this tax on single-use packaging with a support programme for the implementation of reusable systems to help businesses switch to sustainable alternatives.
The path to the packaging tax had already been paved in 2018 with a city council decision to develop an initial draft. "During the development of the statutes for the packaging tax, legal support was particularly important to us in order to put the project on solid ground. But early communication with the food service industry was also of great importance in order to optimally involve the affected target group," emphasises Ms. Patzwahl. The city held several informational events to explain the packaging tax to food service establishments and put them in touch with suppliers of reusable systems. Still, the idea of the packaging tax was not well received by all businesses. The operator of the McDonalds Tübingen branch filed a lawsuit against the introduction of the tax in 2021. In 2022, McDonalds initially won the case before the Administrative Court of the State of Baden-Württemberg. But Tübingen appealed the decision. The packaging tax was finally legitimated by the Federal Administrative Court in May 2023. "A landmark ruling for Tübingen, but also for other cities and towns. This makes it clear that municipal taxes on disposable packaging are lawful," comments Claudia Patzwahl. The court’s reasoning behind decision, reaffirming that the levying of a municipal packaging tax is not in conflict with relevant German waste legislation, has been publicly available since August 9, 2023.1
In addition to informational events, the city also offers numerous materials including informative films and tips for the restaurants, cafés and other gastronomic establishments. Tübingen's stated goal was to involve and educate businesses early on and this was well received. In an initial survey six months after the programme’s launch, a majority believed the packaging tax to be a sensible measure. "In relation to the population, there are now more restaurants in Tübingen with a reusable system than anywhere else in Germany. That alone shows how effective the packaging tax is," Patzwahl points out. The example from Tübingen impressively shows how important and influential ambitious local level measures can be.
Other cities have been inspired by the Tübingen example and are currently looking into introducing a packaging tax including Constance, Munich and Freiburg. Gummersbach announced its intention to introduce a packaging tax as early as the beginning of 2024. The reduction of packaging waste through local government initiatives is also the theme of the Environmental Action Germany (Deutsche Umwelthilfe) Plastic-Free Cities campaign. With the campaign, the organisation is drawing attention to effective options for municipalities to curb the growing flood of single-use waste. Environmental Action Germany supports interested municipal actors throughout Germany with advice on reusable packaging and the introduction of packaging taxes while also offering citizens a template to propose the introduction of a packaging tax in their city councils.
Learn more (in German)
- Information on the Tübingen packaging tax
- Reasoning behind the court ruling of 24.05.2023
- Environmental Action Germany background paper
- Plastic-free cities campaign website
- Citizen proposal website for the introduction of a packaging tax
Contact in Tübingenfor more information: verpackungssteuer(at)tuebingen.de
1 BVerwG, Ruling of 24.05.2023 - 9 CN 1.22 -
written August 2023