Sustainability in the beverage trade: Reuse, individual service and well-informed customers are the winning recipe

Reusable bottles have a decisive advantage compared to single-use bottles: They create less waste and help protect the environment. They are, however, often more expensive and are rarely sold in the retail trade. Many consumers are unaware what the exact difference is between single-use and reusable, and tend to pay more attention to the price and practical aspects when making a purchase. This puts the onus on beverage retailers and producers to inform the customer and convince them of the benefits of sustainable packaging.

Since the introduction of the deposit system for single-use bottles in 2003, and despite having the world’s largest reuse system in the beverage sector, the proportion of reusable bottles in Germany has fallen from 71.1 to around 42 percent. Discounters are creating this pressure as they predominantly sell single-use bottles at very low prices; this is compounded by companies such as Lidl and Coca-Cola who, in future, will no longer be selling reusable bottles, opting instead solely for single-use variants. In order to reverse this trend toward single use, the new German packaging law and the initiative “Mehrweg ist Klimaschutz” (Reuse protects the environment) from the “Mehrweg-Allianz”—a German organization supporting reuse—are bringing fresh impetus to promote greater sustainability in the sale of beverages.

The deposit system is not what it seems

Each year, in Germany, 17 billion single-use plastic bottles are sold. Many consumers believe that all returnable bottles are reusable—this is a misconception. Only some single-use returnable bottles are recycled and reused for refilling. In contrast, genuine reusable bottles are always refilled and reused, albeit for a limited time.

Price and convenience are also significant influencing factors here: Single-use bottles can be returned anywhere. In addition to this, a single-use, 1.5-liter bottle of mineral water costs 19 cents plus a 25-cent deposit at a discounter; there are very few mineral waters available in glass bottles that can compete with that.

Plastic is waste — reuse protects the environment: Retail takes a stand

If all alcohol-free beverages in Germany were sold in reusable bottles, this would bring about a reduction of 1.25 million tonnes of CO2 emissions per year. According to Deutsche Umwelthilfe (Environmental Action Germany, DUH), that roughly equates to the exhaust fumes emitted by 575,000 medium-sized cars. DUH is part of the “Mehrweg-Allianz”, which has spoken out against the single-use system for years and advocates greater sustainability. Alongside DUH, over 5000 beverage retailers, private breweries and trade unions, institutions and trade associations, including the Verband des deutschen Getränkefachgroßhandels (German Beverage Wholesale Trade Association, GFGH), the Verband des Deutschen Getränke-Einzelhandels (German Beverage Retail Association, EHV) and the Verband der Privaten Brauereien Deutschlands (German Association of Private Breweries) belong to the “Mehrweg-Allianz”.

Some of their demands are to be implemented with the new packaging law set to come into force on July 1, 2019: In future, signs on the shelves will indicate which products are single-use and which are reusable. This means customers will be able to make more informed choices about what they buy. Together with the consumer campaign “Mehrweg ist Klimaschutz,” this gives a clear signal to customers to be more environmentally friendly when shopping. The intention, enshrined in law, is to achieve a 70 percent quota of reusable packaging for beverages. But there are also other trends moving the beverage packaging market towards greater sustainability. Further information on some of these trends can be found on the drinktec blog, including here.

The trend: Individual advice and local color to counteract competitive pressure

Appealing for ecological awareness is an approach aimed at more firmly anchoring reuse as a sustainable and environmentally friendly solution in the packaging sector. Mandatory charges, like those introduced for plastic bags, could be an alternative model, with the use of plastic bags actually having fallen by a third since the introduction of obligatory charging in July 2016. The Managing Director of the DUH, Jürgen Resch, would like to see a 20 cent “incentive tax” introduced for single-use packaging.

Other measures to reduce price and competitive pressure on food retailers and discounters focus on service: Small beverage stores can offer individual advice and ranges, and are therefore convincing customers to shop locally and to return their bottles there. The idea could also be a solution for smaller home delivery services. The German deposit system currently favors large food chains that offer a more varied range and can accept any bottles returned. For smaller vendors, their service concept could prove an advantage over the big players.

Retail and specialist retail at drinktec

At drinktec, exhibitors and visitors alike can learn all about the current topics and trends in beverage retail. The specialist conference PETnology, held at the same time as drinktec, will focus particularly on the “circular economy” and will ask how the closed loop of PET bottles can succeed, under the heading: “Are we green enough?” In the Innovation Flow Lounge in Hall B1, and at BevTech Europe, the specialist conference for beverage producers and suppliers, the theme will focus on packaging solutions of the future. And PRO FachHANDEL, the leading trade fair for the German beverage and specialist convenience trade, will also be on site as an established communication platform during drinktec.

Innovation Flow Lounge is supported by:

  • Döhler
  • FoodBev Media
  • KHS
  • Sahm GmbH

drinktec Blog-Team

The drinktec team writes reports on everything to do with drinktec and gives insights into what is going on behind the scenes of the trade fair.