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The true cost of single use plastic items

Waste bins around cities brim over with single-use to-go products. Mostly plastic but also paper pizza boxes, coffee cups and composable alternatives from wood and new materials are part of the mix. Midsize cities like Heidelberg and Tübingen spent millions on waste management and try their best to keep the public space clean. However, just the dispose of public waste bins has cost has increased  50.000 € in 2017 compared to 2016 for Tübingen alone. So mayor Boris Palmer is taking action. He introduces a tax on all single-use items.

He argues that it shouldn’t be cheaper to use single-use products than reusable ones. The “Pfandsystem” is in Germany widespread and in other areas like bottled water very popular. However, the use of throw-away food and drink wrappings has increased drastically over the past years. Not even the outlaw of single-use plastic products by the EU by 2021 will change the need of our to-go culture for alternatives. In addition, getting rid of plastic will not necessarily change the amount of waste. Compostable materials seems like a great solution at first, but as soon as the one-time-use spoon is in circulation and ends up in a residual waste bin, there is close to zero chance the product will and can be recycled.

So can a tax be the solution to such a complex problem? Takeaway restaurants, above all Mc Donald don’t think so. The tax Boris Palmer introduces will be life-threatening to their businesses. Cost of 50 Cent per coffee cup, for example, are financially not bearable. The customer will and cannot tolerate such an increase of prices. They are already taking legal actions against the tax. The chance to repeal the law by the courts is even. Back in 1992 a similar law in Kassel was overturned by the courts a few years later. However, the legal situation as changed since and experts like lawyer Remo Klinger from Berlin predict the law a good chance of sustaining a lawsuit.    

If so a lot of cities and towns like Heidelberg may follow Tübingens example and introduce similar taxes. In the meanwhile Heidelberg tries other strategies to fight single-use to-go wrapping. Focusing on coffee cups, Heidelberg started a big campaign introducing a deposit (Pfand) system. Many coffeeshops use now reusable cups charging 1 Euro. The customer can return the cup after use at any participating store. For certain, singular products like coffee cups this may work. Environmentally aware costumers are willing to take the extra step returning the cup, but if the mainstream is adapting to this Pfandsystem is up to evaluation.   

After all, the task seems impossible. There is a need for single-use items that won’t turn into waste after use but are still most convenient for users. Nothing but consumable products can combine these qualities. The future of real zero-waste solutions that still suit our needs and lifestyle must be in eatable spoons and other items. The ice cream store offers such an option ever since. The ice cream wafer need to be the blueprint for other products. But if we expect costumers to consume their spoons and forks they need to actually be tasty. That’s the reason we focus not just on function but want to offer a sustainable, single-use but no-waste alternative that you look forward to snacking while enjoying your meal.