AAFES, DECA join German merchants in confusion over bottle deposit law
Americans stationed in Germany may soon see the price of their favorite bottled water, beer or carbonated soft drink nearly double at Army and Air Force Exchange Service facilities and commissaries.
The cause of the increase: a 25 euro cent deposit to be imposed on certain non-reusable metal, plastic and glass beverage containers beginning Jan. 1. A 50 euro cent deposit is to be levied on containers of 1.5 liters or larger.
However, Defense Commissary Agency and AAFES officials are unsure of how the new law will be implemented. And they are not alone. Many German supermarket and convenience store chains, which have been fighting the new law, don’t know what they will do about it, either.
The legislation causing all the hoopla was approved by German Chancellor Gerhard Schroeder last spring at the urging of leaders of the Green Party, an environment-oriented partner with his Social Democratic party in the governing coalition that rules Germany.
German officials have been eyeing the deposit plan since a 1991 study into the diminishing numbers of reusable containers on store shelves, saying that if the number of reusable containers being sold dropped below 72 percent, the deposit would become a reality. That benchmark was met in 1997, and has dropped continually ever since, according to a Federal Environment Ministry report.
The goal of the deposit is to decrease the amount of roadside waste in Germany by encouraging consumers to return the containers, and to spur distributors to switch to reusable packaging.
German retailers have been fighting the plan, hoping at least to delay it until they can install machines that will automatically give refunds. Several U.S. states with deposit laws, including California and Michigan, use the machines.
Although stores have had since July 2002 to prepare, many local retailers simply are not ready to handle the influx of returned containers, according to German press reports.
One report stated that Aldi, Germany’s largest discount supermarket chain, will pull cans of beer and other non-recyclable bottles from the shelves to avoid dealing with the deposit and can or bottle returns. Many of the stores held sales to get rid of the containers before the law went into effect.
The new can and bottle deposit sneaked up on commissary store directors, who still aren’t sure whether they must collect it or not. They are waiting for orders from DECA’s European headquarters, said Eberhard von dem Bach, store director of the large commissary in Würzburg.
“We have no feedback yet,” he said. “We were told to wait.”
Von dem Bach said his store buys much of its bottled water from German sources. He is especially concerned about the impact on sales of bottled water. He said a six-pack of 1.5-liter bottles now sells for $1.87. “I personally hope we’re exempt,” von dem Bach said. “No American will pay $4.87 for a six-pack of water.”
Gerri Young, a DECA spokeswoman, said the commissaries are waiting for word from a U.S. Army Europe attorney who is studying the new law. She added that commissaries throughout Germany have not been told to do anything at this point, and it will be business as usual during the first few days of January.
“It’s an issue that’s very complex,” she said. “The Germans have not told us anything definitive about what we’re supposed to do.”
However, Young said pulling all non-recyclable beverage containers from the shelves is not a feasible option for commissaries.
If commissaries must comply and impose the deposits, can and bottle returns could pose an even larger problem than increased prices.
“Some stores have a lot of space, and other stores have no space at all,” Young said. “There’s a vast difference from facility to facility.”
AAFES also is waiting for word from USAREUR lawyers, said Maj. Mitch Edgar, AAFES-Europe spokesman.
“The bottom line is, we’re still not sure how this is going to work out,” he said.
The new system ...
Following are some details on the new deposit system in Germany that is supposed to be implemented this week.
¶ A deposit of 25 euro cents will be imposed on containers under 1.5 liters, and 50 euro cents on containers of 1.5 liters or larger. Containers include cans and non-reusable glass or plastic.
¶ The deposit applies only to non-reusable mineral water, beer and carbonated soft drink containers. It does not apply to fruit juices, wine or milk.
¶ All containers that require a deposit will be clearly marked with the amount of the deposit (25 or 50 euro cents).
¶ One-third of the 33.7 billion liters of drinks consumed in Germany are sold in non-reusable containers.
¶ The deposit is being imposed because the amount of reusable beverage containers on retailers’ shelves dropped below 72 percent. German officials determined after a 1991 study that if the number dipped below 72 percent, the deposit system would be imposed.
¶ Until about 80,000 automatic recycling machines are installed across Germany — tentatively scheduled to be complete by October 2003 — consumers must return the containers to the store where they were purchased.
¶ The Federal Environment Ministry and Ministry for Economics and Technology expect the new deposit system to cost trade and industry an additional 135 million euro. The increase amounts to about 1 euro cent per container.
Source: Federal Environment Ministry information paper