Packaging tax in Tübingen: Meckes is not lovin’ it

Tübingen is taking action against disposable cups and food packaging with a packaging tax. The Federal Administrative Court has decided that she can too.

McDonald's to-go bags and a matching to-go cup are in front of a Tübingen McDonald's branch.

The packaging tax in Tübingen also has to be paid by McDonalds Photo: Christoph Schmidt/dpa

TÜBINGEN/LEIPZIG dpa | – The university town of Tübingen wants to take action against piles of rubbish from chips boxes and coffee cups with its own packaging tax – and has now received tailwind from the Federal Administrative Court. On Wednesday, the highest German administrative court in Leipzig declared the Tübingen packaging tax statute to be essentially lawful ((Az.: BVerwG 9 CN 1.22).

The operator of a McDonald’s branch in Tübingen had sued, supported by the fast food company. Tübingen’s Lord Mayor Boris Palmer (independent) spoke of a “great day for Tübingen and for climate protection in general” after the verdict was announced.

McDonald’s regretted the court’s decision and announced that the franchisee would consider a constitutional complaint. “Currently, it is now just a matter of waiting for the written reasoning of the court,” said the group.

Since the beginning of 2022, 50 cents each for disposable tableware and packaging and 20 cents for disposable cutlery have been due in Tübingen. According to the statutes, the tax should be limited to a maximum of 1.50 euros per “single meal”. The sellers of the food and drinks have to pay – according to the city, around 440 companies in Tübingen.

In the lower court, McDonald’s had won

McDonald’s won in the lower court at the Administrative Court (VGH) in Mannheim. Tübingen had lodged an appeal against this judgment, which was now decided in Leipzig.

The Baden-Württemberg judges had assumed that Tübingen lacked the competence to introduce the packaging tax. It is not a local tax. In addition, the VGH saw the Tübingen tax as contradicting federal waste law. This excludes additional regulations from individual municipalities. The VGH was strongly based on a judgment of the Federal Constitutional Court, which in 1998 had declared a very similar packaging tax statute of the city of Kassel to be void.

During the oral hearing, the Federal Administrative Court repeatedly pointed out that waste legislation had changed over the past 25 years. In an opening statement, the presiding judge, Prof. Ulrike Bick, also emphasized the size of the problem. She quoted figures from the German Environmental Aid (DUH) according to which 2.8 billion disposable cups are used in Germany every year. “This enormous number shows that it is not only a waste problem but also a resource problem.”

Packaging often remains in the municipal area

Unlike the VGH, the federal judges assume that takeaway meals are usually eaten very soon, so the packaging “typically” remains in the municipal area. The fact that the Tübingen statutes also include “to go” packaging does not prevent it from being a local tax. The Senate also did not recognize a contradiction to federal and EU waste regulations. Rather, everyone – the federal government, the EU and the city of Tübingen – pursued the same goal.

McDonald’s lawyers had warned of a nationwide patchwork quilt if Tübingen prevailed. “There will be at least 80 municipalities that enact packaging tax statutes,” said lawyer Peter Bachmann. For nationwide companies like McDonald’s, that’s almost impossible to manage.

The environmental aid called on cities and municipalities to follow the “Tübingen success model” and to increase the pressure on Federal Environment Minister Steffi Lemke (Greens) to introduce a nationwide one-way tax on “to-go” packaging. From McDonald’s she called for a comprehensive switch to climate-friendly reusable alternatives. The association of municipal companies welcomed the fact that municipalities can take action against littering with taxes.

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