© Nestlé Nespresso SA

According to information provided by the Green Dot organisation, coffee capsules made of aluminium are perfectly suited to recycling. Some coffee capsule manufacturers have already applied for a voluntary take-back scheme through Duales System in Germany. © Nestlé Nespresso SA

Coffee capsules likely to remain exempt from mandatory deposit

 When it comes to coffee caps there are two groups of stakeholders opposing each other.  On the one hand, the demand-driven, fast-growing market for capsules; consumers appreciate them especially for their handy coffee portioning meaning less wastage of stale, undrinkable coffee that has to be thrown away. Furthermore, there are good recycling possibilities for the capsules in Germany and many other EU states. On the other hand, environmental associations take a critical stance towards this disproportionate use of resources which is why for some time the introduction of a deposit fee has been under discussion; we last reported on this in March 2016.

Bei Nespresso hat man das klare Ziel: Die Kapseln sollen recycelt werden. Sie bestehen aus Aluminium, das unendlich oft recycelt werden kann. © Nestlé Nespresso SA

Nespresso has a stated aim: capsules must be recycled. They consist of aluminium, which is infinitely recyclable. © Nestlé Nespresso SA

But how realistic is the introduction of such a fee in Germany?

According to a statement of the Federal Environmental Ministry made to the “Verpackungsrundschau” magazine, this measure is very improbable since the “possibilities to do anything about it within the national framework are limited”.

Legally speaking, neither product bans nor stricter design specifications are possible. Quite apart from that, the Ministry says the “immense administrative effort associated with a concept of this kind” is ignored in the debate.

Paper recycling bags are designed to help achieve the company’s goal by 2020. © Nestlé Nespresso SA

The coffee giant is already providing recycling systems in over 30 countries and has installed numerous collection points. Paper recycling bags are designed to help achieve the company’s goal by 2020: by then the recycling ratio is to go up from some 80% now to 100% worldwide. © Nestlé Nespresso SA

Last but not least, a tax or deposit fee for the capsules would raise constitutional questions. Since the current price for capsule coffee already exceeds that of bulk filter coffee many times over, to achieve the desired effect you would have to introduce surcharges in price dimensions that are hardly proportionate with the product price and therefore would be contestable on grounds of constitutional law.

For this reason, regulatory possibilities are limited. The German Ministry of the Environment still considers capsules an avoidable burden for the environment; the best option for far-reaching collection of empty capsules would be the Act on Recyclable Waste that is currently being drafted and would introduce capsules into the recycling cycle. It will be interesting to see what happens in the future because so far there has not been an official and final statement from the Ministry.

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