Dispute over tax on fast food packaging in Tübingen

Status: 01/18/2022 08:11 a.m

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

By Thomas Denzel, SWR Stuttgart

The queue in front of the “Salam Box” snack bar in Tübingen is long. This was not necessarily to be expected after the introduction of the new tax. Because most people here take their food to go, and since January 1, customers have been paying for the disposable packaging in addition to the price of the take-away meal. “I’m not losing any customers because of the tax,” says owner Imad Al-Samir, who has been serving Lebanese cuisine here for more than 20 years. Most people in Tübingen have enough environmental awareness and therefore understand the new requirements, he believes.

Up to 1.50 euros tax per meal

50 cents tax for disposable packaging or a disposable drinking cup, 20 cents for disposable cutlery – a maximum of 1.50 euros per meal is due. The tax is levied on anything that is clearly take-out: hot food or cold dishes sold with cutlery. And on a salad, if it’s already on. The catering establishments pay the tax to the city at the end of the year and are allowed to pass it on to their customers. In Imad Al-Samir’s snack bar, however, you have a choice. You can also rent reusable crockery for a deposit or bring your own crockery. Then it’s tax-free.

Many fast food providers in Tübingen are now making similar offers. And almost everyone who is queuing for lunch at “Salam Box” today actually has their own plastic box from home under their arm. Among them are many young students and some who openly admit that it was actually the tax that made a difference. “I’ve always had a bad conscience about using the disposable packaging,” says Daniel David, who is having his lunch filled in a plastic bowl he brought with him. But he only bought it when it was clear that the tax was coming.

Subsidy for switching to reusable

“We only charge costs that would otherwise be passed on to the city and the general public: the costs of disposing of packaging waste,” says Tübingen’s Mayor Boris Palmer from the Greens. Tübingen spent 700,000 euros on garbage disposal in the city center last year, most of which was to-go packaging. The Mayor hopes to be able to reduce this amount by half.

Hundreds of businesses are affected by the tax in Tübingen: gas stations, cafes, snack bars, bakeries, butchers. If you switch to a reusable system, you can apply for a grant from the city. They get up to 500 euros for the purchase of dishes, up to 1,000 euros when buying 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 through Tübingen, I see that. Until now, the rubbish bins were always overflowing, now it’s a lot less.” The German Environmental Aid (DUH) also welcomes the Tübingen model and hopes that it will catch on nationwide.

But not everyone is optimistic. Not even all of the customers in Al-Samir’s Imbiss. Lara Koegs, 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 that’s really going to do much,” she fears.

Does the city exceed its competences?

And there is headwind from Germany’s largest fast food provider McDonald’s. The local restaurant is suing the Mannheim Administrative Court against the Tübingen system. It questions whether the city actually has the right to collect the tax. At the same time, however, McDonald’s is planning to introduce its own reusable system in Germany and has now announced in the middle of the dispute with Palmer that it also wants to test it in the Tübingen restaurant. Products packaged in this way would then not be subject to tax.

“With the help of the new reusable option and the support of our guests, we are now able to make our city even more sustainable,” explains the restaurant’s franchisee, Susanne Heppert. “McDonald’s can’t decide whether it wants to be green or take a dinosaur position,” 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 happy about it. Any step in this direction is to be welcomed.

Nevertheless, the dispute will probably go to court in March. Palmer doesn’t expect his tax to be tipped there. And until then, everything will continue as planned anyway.


Leave a Comment