Could you offer a plastic crusher

2.8 billion disposable cups a year : Coffee-to-go should soon work without rubbish

It is a sunny day in July when Berlin hands over the cup. Men with top hats march across Alexanderplatz and Friedrichstrasse to symbolically carry the “coffee-to-go” mug to the grave. Passers-by who are caught with environmentally harmful disposable cups will be given reusable cups for free on this day.

That was a year ago. The street party was supposed to advertise the Berlin initiative “Better World Cup”. She wants to encourage Berliners to forego disposable cups and instead bring their own cups or reusable cups to the coffee shop.

2.8 billion disposable cups a year

But despite all efforts, the “coffee-to-go” disposable cup is not dead - neither in Berlin nor anywhere else. German citizens use 2.8 billion disposable cups a year, that is 34 per capita, according to a study by the Federal Environment Agency published on Tuesday. There are also 1.3 billion lids.

In Berlin there are 170 million disposable cups a year, 20,000 per hour, reports Benjamin Bongardt from the Senate Department for the Environment. The cups clog the trash cans and litter the parks.

Federal Environment Minister Svenja Schulze wants to change that. The "coffee-to-go" cups are a "symptom of our throwaway society," said the SPD minister in Berlin on Tuesday. Schulze wants people to switch from disposable to reusable. To do this, she wants to ask the manufacturers of disposable cups to pay. They should pay higher license fees under the Packaging Ordinance.

The money is to flow into a "littering fund" that is to be used for garbage disposal and awareness-raising campaigns.

The environment minister wants to completely ban the particularly environmentally harmful polystyrene cups. This allows her the new disposable plastic ordinance, which also declares war on plastic straws, disposable dishes and cutlery.

On Tuesday, the Council of Ministers finally gave the green light for this, and plastic products are to disappear from the market by 2021. Schulze is pushing the pace. “I want to start earlier,” she announces.

In doing so, the minister seeks dialogue with the economy - as is the case with plastic bags. Instead of 29 per capita as in 2017, German consumers only used 24 in 2018 because many shops are now taking money for the bags or have banned them entirely from their range.

Now Schulze is also hoping for support from the economy in its campaign against disposable coffee mugs. Retail and catering should primarily offer reusable cups, demands Schulze. Coffee in disposable cups is said to be more expensive than the reusable variant.

If there is no agreement, Schulze wants to take regulatory measures. In its study, the Federal Environment Agency played out what these could look like. The authority proposes levies for disposable cups and lids: 20 cents per cup, ten cents per lid.

Retail is critical of this. The companies are already very active in supporting reusable systems, said the managing director of the HDE trade association, Kai Falk, the Tagesspiegel. One should first give space to these efforts before thinking about regulatory measures.

Award-winning: the "FairCup" from Göttingen

In fact, there are now a large number of regional initiatives that want to change people's drinking habits. This includes, for example, the “FairCup” that the vocational school teacher Sibylle Meyer designed with her students in Göttingen. The colorful plastic cups are not only suitable for coffee or tea, but also for salads or other snacks.

Some supermarkets in the region even take the cups back in their vending machines. The "FairCup" has already spread from Göttingen to Amrum and Föhr, and talks are also being held in Berlin, reports Meyer. On Tuesday the system received the environmental award, the “Blue Angel”.

In Berlin they want to expand the “Better World Cup” system. When it started in 2017, there were 100 sales outlets, now there are over 900. Participating bakeries, coffee shops and supermarkets give discounts to customers who do not use disposable cups. Now the Senate Administration wants to go one step further. She wants to establish a reusable system that works with returnable cups.

We are looking for a provider who can take over the logistics and handling up to and including washing. Cleaning the reusable cups is difficult, especially for small kiosks, says Senate spokeswoman Dorothee Winden. An invitation to tender is being prepared.

Bettina Rechenberg from the Federal Environment Agency also thinks a deposit system is good. She advocates a deposit of between 50 cents and two euros per cup. This increases the incentive to actually return the cup or to use it frequently.

A reusable plastic cup has to be used at least ten times in order for it to pay off ecologically, she says, but 25 and more uses are better.

What can consumers do until then? You should use reusable users, says Rechenberg. If that doesn't work, you should at least do without the lid. And you should allow yourself a little more rest: Drink the coffee on site instead of throwing it down on the street: "to stay" is better than "to go", says the biologist.

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