The single-use plastic fund or the "plastic tax" in Germany

Whe­ther food con­tai­ners, plas­tic bags, drinks cups or ci­ga­rette fil­ters: ma­nu­fac­turers of cer­tain sin­gle-use plas­tics will in the fu­ture be ob­li­ged to pay a spe­cial an­nual tax.

From 01.01.2024, ac­cor­ding to the Sin­gle-Use Plas­tics Fund Act (EWK­FondsG) of 11.05.2023, ma­nu­fac­turers will have to make an (ad­di­tio­nal) fi­nan­cial contri­bu­tion ba­sed on the an­nual quan­tity of cer­tain sin­gle-use plas­tic pro­ducts placed on the mar­ket, which will be used to fi­nance col­lec­tion, clea­ning, awa­ren­ess-rai­sing, data col­lec­tion and trans­mis­sion and ad­mi­nis­tra­tive costs via a fund.

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Note: Some of these ob­li­ga­ti­ons also af­fect ma­nu­fac­turers who al­re­ady as­sume pro­duct re­spon­si­bi­lity for cer­tain pro­ducts, na­mely pa­cka­ging, un­der the Pa­cka­ging Act. This also in­clu­des the ob­li­ga­tion to pay fees to the dual sys­tems that ma­nage the pa­cka­ging waste ge­ne­ra­ted by pri­vate end con­su­mers. Howe­ver, this law con­cerns the ex­ten­ded pro­du­cer re­spon­si­bi­lity for cer­tain waste from sin­gle-use plas­tic pro­ducts ge­ne­ra­ted in pu­blic spaces and is the­re­fore se­pa­rate from the fees paid to the dual sys­tems.

The ob­li­ga­tion to re­gis­ter will ap­ply from 2024 and the ob­li­ga­tion to pay the fee one year la­ter from 2025.

Note: For ma­nu­fac­turers of fire­works, this ob­li­ga­tion will ap­ply two years la­ter in each case; the ob­li­ga­tion to re­gis­ter from 2026 and the ob­li­ga­tion to pay the levy for the first time from 2027.

Per­so­nal scope of ap­pli­ca­tion

The per­so­nal scope of ap­pli­ca­tion is de­fi­ned by the term ma­nu­fac­turer.

Ma­nu­fac­turers are all mar­ket par­ti­ci­pants who make avail­able or sell the (fil­led or un­fil­led) sin­gle-use plas­tic pro­ducts con­cer­ned on the Ger­man mar­ket for the first time on a com­mer­cial ba­sis (against pay­ment or free of charge). Ma­nu­fac­turer is the­re­fore the (tech­ni­cal) pro­du­cer, a fil­ler, a sel­ler or an im­por­ter. The term "ma­nu­fac­turer" wi­thin the mea­ning of the EWK­FondsG is the­re­fore much broa­der than in the Ver­packG, which only de­fi­nes the term "ma­nu­fac­turer" in terms of pla­cing fil­led pa­cka­ging on the mar­ket.

As the pro­vi­sion must take place "for the first time", a pro­du­cer, fil­ler, sel­ler or im­por­ter who pas­ses on a sin­gle-use plas­tic pro­duct that has al­re­ady been made avail­able on the mar­ket is not a ma­nu­fac­turer wi­thin the mea­ning of the law. In ad­di­tion, ope­ra­tors of elec­tro­nic mar­ket­places and cer­tain ful­fill­ment ser­vice pro­vi­ders th­rough whom or by whom sin­gle-use plas­tic pro­ducts are placed on the mar­ket are also af­fec­ted.

Ma­te­rial scope of the ap­pli­ca­tion

The sin­gle-use plas­tic pro­duct de­ter­mi­nes the ma­te­rial scope of the law.

Sin­gle-use plas­tic pro­ducts in­clude a wide range of com­mon, short-li­ved con­su­mer goods that are thrown away af­ter being used once for their in­ten­ded pur­pose, are ra­rely re­cy­cled, and the­re­fore ea­sily be­come waste. In line with the cau­sa­tion prin­ci­ple, an ex­ten­ded pro­du­cer re­spon­si­bi­lity re­gime will be in­tro­du­ced for cer­tain sin­gle-use plas­tic pro­ducts in this con­text.

The af­fec­ted pro­duct groups in­clude:

  • "to-go" food con­tai­ners
  • Bag and film pa­cka­ging with food con­tent for to-go con­sump­tion
  • Be­ver­age con­tai­ners with a fil­ling vo­lume of up to 3 li­ters
  • Be­ver­age cups, in­clu­ding their clo­sures and lids
  • Light­weight plas­tic car­rier bags
  • Wet wi­pes
  • Bal­loons
  • To­bacco fil­ters (pro­ducts)
  • Fire­works (from 2026).

The above list of sin­gle-use plas­tic pro­ducts af­fec­ted is ex­haus­tive. Other sin­gle-use plas­tic pro­ducts are not af­fec­ted by the levy. There are no th­res­hold va­lues for the plas­tic con­tent; for ex­am­ple, a card­board ice cream cup with a thin po­ly­mer coa­ting is a sin­gle-use plas­tic pro­duct. The EWK­FondsG also co­vers, for ex­am­ple, all con­ceivable ty­pes of sweets that are of­fe­red for sale in foil.

The fund is in­ten­ded to co­ver the costs in­cur­red by waste ma­nage­ment com­pa­nies for waste dis­po­sal, with ma­nu­fac­turers pay­ing into the fund and eli­gi­ble waste ma­nage­ment com­pa­nies re­cei­ving pay­ments for ser­vices ren­de­red each year. The Fe­deral En­viron­ment Agency is re­spon­si­ble for ad­mi­nis­te­ring the fund.

Re­gis­tra­tion and re­por­ting ob­li­ga­tion of the ma­nu­fac­turer

Every ma­nu­fac­turer will be sub­ject to a re­gis­tra­tion and re­por­ting ob­li­ga­tion from 2024.

To re­cord the ma­nu­fac­turers of sin­gle-use plas­tic pro­ducts lia­ble for pay­ment, they must re­gis­ter elec­tro­ni­cally with the Fe­deral En­viron­ment Agency (UBA) on the "DI­VID" plat­form from 01.01.2024 and re­port to the Fe­deral En­viron­ment Agency an­nually by 15.05. (for the first time by 15.05.2025), bro­ken down by type and mass, the sin­gle-use plas­tic pro­ducts they made avail­able or sold on the mar­ket for the first time in the pre­vious ca­len­dar year.

Note: The type and mass in ki­lo­grams of sin­gle-use plas­tic pro­ducts made avail­able or sold on the mar­ket for the first time must be re­por­ted. It is not the weight of the plas­tic con­tent of the pro­duct pa­cka­ging that is re­le­vant, but the to­tal weight of the pro­duct. Howe­ver, in case of fil­ters con­tai­ned in to­bacco pro­ducts, only the fil­ters count, as they con­sti­tute a sin­gle-use plas­tic pro­duct.

Ob­li­ga­tion to check and con­firm

The no­ti­fi­ca­tion must be che­cked and con­fir­med by a third party; this may be an ex­pert, au­di­tor, tax con­sul­tant, or cer­ti­fied ac­coun­tant re­gis­te­red by the Pa­cka­ging Act. Only if the quan­tity of sin­gle-use plas­tic pro­ducts con­cer­ned fell be­low 100 ki­lo­grams in the pre­vious year (th­res­hold va­lue) or if only re­turn­able bott­les were placed on the mar­ket can an au­dit and con­fir­ma­tion be wai­ved; howe­ver, a no­ti­fi­ca­tion to the Fe­deral En­viron­ment Agency must still be made re­gard­less of this.

Mar­ket ac­cess block for failure to re­gis­ter

If an ob­li­ga­ted party fails to re­gis­ter, mar­ket ac­cess for sin­gle-use plas­tic pro­ducts will be blo­cked. There are also ex­pli­cit ob­li­ga­ti­ons for non-ma­nu­fac­turers; they may not of­fer sin­gle-use plas­tic pro­ducts if the ma­nu­fac­turer is not or not pro­perly re­gis­te­red wi­thin the mea­ning of the EWK­FondsG.

Ma­nu­fac­turers are well ad­vi­sed to com­ply with their no­ti­fi­ca­tion ob­li­ga­ti­ons, as in the event of an as­sess­ment, not only is there a risk of a fine, but ex­pe­ri­ence has shown that a so-cal­led as­sess­ment surch­arge will also be im­po­sed on the ma­nu­fac­turer.

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