Bonn Single-use plastic products have been banned since July 3 in the EU. In the city center of Bonn, retailers and customers are dealing with this in different ways. Quite noticeably, many citizens are opting for environmentally friendly alternatives.
Around 320,000 disposable cups are said to be handed out every hour in Germany alone (see information box). If they don't end up in the trash but rather in the surrounding environment, they will stay there for decades. Since July 3, 2021, single-use plastic products have been banned in the EU. These include, for example, drinking straws, stirrers, balloon wands or disposable utensils made of conventional plastic as well as bioplastic. To-go cups and disposable containers made of styrofoam may no longer be produced and marketed in the EU. The GA took a tour of the city center to see what the reality looks like in Bonn two months after the introduction of the law.
An examination of an overflowing trash receptacle on Bonn's market square shows the success of the ban on single-use plastic products: Paper plates and bowls of various types and sizes pile up neatly on top of each other. Only one plastic cup crowns the mountain of trash. Unlike plastic plates and drinking straws, however, it may still be sold if it carries a warning label indicating that plastics cause environmental damage and informing consumers about the correct way to dispose of it. The plastic cup found in this trash bin doesn’t carry that warning, however. But even this does not constitute a violation, as the law still allows the sale of existing and unmarked products until July 3, 2022.
In 2017, the amount of waste was more than 346,000 tons
Around 320,000 disposable cups are consumed for hot drinks every hour in Germany, according to the German Environment Ministry, including up to 140,000 to-go cups. Disposable utensils and to-go packaging amounted to more than 346,000 tons in 2017, a survey by the Society for Packaging Market Research found. The amount of total plastic waste increased by 3.9 percent between 2015 and 2017 to 6.15 million tons, according to the Federal Environment Agency. In Germany, hundreds of thousands of tons of plastic are consumed just for single-use plastic bottles. Reusable bottles, on the other hand, can be reused up to 50 times. A reusable crate containing twelve bottles (0.75 liter) replaces 450 single-use plastic bottles (1.0 liter). Since the new packaging law came into force, a good 50 percent more plastic packaging has been recycled.
"We still have a lot of plastic," says Tamara Wolf, handing out two plastic plates filled with curry sausages and french fries from her snack cart to a young couple. "Yeah," Wolf says, shrugging her shoulders in resignation, one just has way too many of them. "We'll throw these out and be done with it," she gestures, pointing to small cardboard boxes already ready for smaller portions. The couple takes their ordered food and is convinced that it's okay to ignore the plastic ban if you're hungry.
Birgit and Timo Gerkens, on the other hand, say they deliberately chose the neighboring snack bar, where the Indian curry is served on tin plates. "If we're all talking about climate protection, then we have to start somewhere," says Birgit Gerkens. Of course, washing plates and cutlery is time-consuming, but if we want our children to have something from our planet, we have to act accordingly.
Environmentally friendly packaging prevails
With the exception of the snack cart, whose owners are still using up their stock of plastic dishes, all operators of stalls and carts on Bonn's market square now seem to offer their food in environmentally friendly packaging. On the other hand, the ubiquitous plastic cups, which are exempt from the plastic ban, are and will remain conspicuous. Small children grow up with them and present their colorful bubble teas cheerfully and without concern.
After a long break due to Covid, Michaela Meyer, a vendor from Beuel, is happy to be able to sell her fruit-ice drinks on Remigiusplatz again. She has already changed her plastic cups to a more costly organic product and informs customers about the change on large displays. McDonald's to-go cups, on the other hand, do not yet display any of the required recycling labels on their plastic lids. When asked by GA, McDonald's says that the lids were not yet part of the EU directive at the beginning of July. "We are currently working on sustainable alternatives," the company's Munich headquarters said.
Plastic cups for convenience
Markus Pietsch holds three McDonald's to-go cups for his children. Actually, he says, his wife is already very careful that not so much plastic ends up in their house anymore. "You could probably do even more," his wife said, but often it's simply convenience that keeps people from rethinking.
Around 400 cups of tea-mix drinks are sold by Zimu Wang of Teamate "on a good day," he says. Pung Nguyen, who is also cashing in on the successful trend of bubble teas with An's Tea House, says he too sells an average of 300 to 400 cups a day. Long lines have formed in front of both stores with customers who are mostly young. What do they say about the plastic cups being handed out? "There's no other way," says Lara (16). Arne (17) explains that the blenders can only work with fitting plastic cups. Fanny Huthmacher (20) sees no problem: The plastic cups will be recycled. "So what?" she comments. Nguyen wants to use only organic plastic cups beginning in December. They have already been ordered. His competitor, on the other hand, says he has not yet heard of a plastic ban and points to his cardboard drinking straws.
In front of Starbucks, Nisa Öz (20) and Pinar Katircioglu (29) sit in the sun and drink their latte macchiato from to-go plastic cups. There is no warning on these cups about the environmental damage caused by plastic or how to dispose of them properly. An inquiry to Starbucks in London has so far remained unanswered. "I don't understand," says Katircioglu, "why plastic plates are banned, but not the cups." If you're going to start with bans, "then do it properly," she says. It can't be that difficult to switch to paper cups.
Orig. text: Stefan Hermes