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"Reusable police" - Greenpeace creates Petz portal for packaging

Environmental organizations complain about the incomplete implementation of the reusable offer obligation in the German hospitality industry, which has been in effect since the beginning of the year.

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"Reusable police" - Greenpeace creates Petz portal for packaging

Environmental organizations complain about the incomplete implementation of the reusable offer obligation in the German hospitality industry, which has been in effect since the beginning of the year. "Even a quarter of a year after the law came into force, the responsible authorities are largely inactive, we can no longer accept that," says Viola Wohlgemuth, Greenpeace's expert on consumption and the circular economy. The association has therefore launched a reporting portal on the Internet, which is intended to give consumers information if companies do not offer reusable packaging for food or drinks to-go.

In the portal, consumers should now store the data of those businesses that do not comply with the rules from the point of view of the reporters and describe the corresponding case. In addition, they must provide information about themselves.

Based on the entered postal code, the information is then sent by e-mail to the respective state authority. "Ideally, the municipality should check whether the violations continue and then warn them to end them," says Greenpeace.

The organization wants to put pressure on the federal states to better monitor compliance with the relevant regulation. “We have spoken to the authorities of many countries. It is often completely unclear who is investigating violations on site," says Wohlgemuth.

Since January, catering establishments with more than 80 square meters of retail space and more than five employees have had to offer a reusable option for out-of-home business, as stipulated by the German Packaging Act.

If this is violated, restaurants, bistros, cafés, grocery stores and Co. face fines of up to 10,000 euros. Apparently, however, the regulation is hardly checked, complains Greenpeace. Also because it is unclear who is responsible. "This frustrates people who, for example, have campaigned for the regulation together with Greenpeace," says association representative Wohlgemuth.

With the reports generated via the portal, Greenpeace wants the authorities to set up a control structure. A note should not be understood directly as an ad, since the authorities would first have to check whether a restaurateur is subject to the reusable obligation at all. Greenpeace sees no legal problems here. "We have had the procedure checked by lawyers and respect data protection," says Wohlgemuth.

In fact, the Internet pillory is covered by freedom of expression, confirms Wolfram Kohn, attorney for public commercial law at the law firm Dentons. Nevertheless, Greenpeace is taking the risk, above all because of the issue of data protection. But he could imagine that courts see a legitimate interest in the data reports.

The campaign is welcomed by the German Environmental Aid (DUH). Like Greenpeace, the association found out during test purchases that many restaurateurs do not have returnable dishes ready. “The federal states are not enforcing the rule. There is a lack of seriousness in the implementation," criticizes DUH expert Thomas Fischer.

The environmental aid has therefore taken legal action against various companies, such as Starbucks and the cinema operator Cinemaxx. Because it must be made clear that the obligation also applies to packaging that consumers use on the premises of a company. At the same time, Fischer calls for improvements to enforce the mandatory deposit in Germany, such as a 20-cent tax on disposable packaging.

Criticism, on the other hand, comes from the German Hotel and Restaurant Association (Dehoga). "We don't need a private reusable police force. Denunciation and denunciation are out of place," says Dehoga Managing Director Jürgen Benad to WELT. "Instead of reports and threats of punishment, what matters is legal clarity, clarification and constructive cooperation between all those involved."

A reporting portal does not help anyone and is not very effective. “The implementation of the new reusable requirements is the responsibility of the responsible authorities in the respective federal states. The motto must be cooperation instead of confrontation.”

Dehoga is also critical of the obligation to return items – at least at the moment. “We all have to do our part to reduce waste,” says Benad. However, the companies in the hospitality industry have already done a lot in recent years. "However, the obligation to offer reusable products leads to additional work and new costs for our companies - and that in the most difficult of times."

The gastronomy has three years of crisis behind it with massive restrictions and historic losses in sales. “The Corona aftermath is now meeting the consequences of the war with exploding costs for energy, food and personnel. Sales are still well below pre-crisis levels,” says Benad.

A further complication is the fact that, in addition to the open legal questions, there are many different reusable systems, which also makes it difficult to return or take back the reusable containers. "We need simple, system-independent solutions here - similar to the returnable bottle system."

It is rather unusual for a private organization, Greenpeace, to open a reporting portal to support the authorities in their sovereign surveillance tasks. "That's not usual," reports Dentons lawyer Krohn.

But he can imagine that this model will set a precedent. "If it turns out to be a successful model and the data protection risks turn out to be manageable, there could also be imitators in other areas." However, Krohn does not see an obligation for the authorities to investigate every reported case. “The authorities must use their best judgment to decide whether to follow up on leads. But there is no automatism.”

So far, there have been private reporting portals, primarily on the subject of illegal parking. For example, the illegal parker reporting portal collects cases in private parking lots. Similar to flight rights portals, the service is financed through claims for damages for parked driveways and the like. Cities like Berlin also offer to make reports to the public order office via the network.

The state of Baden-Württemberg reports positive experiences with a reporting portal for suspected tax offenses, which Lower Saxony is also introducing. Since December, the Hamburg judiciary has been tackling the problem of Internet hate speech and bullying with a reporting platform - also an area in which it can be difficult to find contact persons.

More controversial in 2019 was the AfD’s “neutral schools” reporting portal in Hamburg. Parents should report here if teachers take a stand against the party. There was no legal objection to this, but the school authorities in the Hanseatic city criticized children as being instrumentalized at the time.

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