Reusables in gastronomy – increasing awareness and adoption of Mehrweg in Berlin.

Reusables in gastronomy – increasing awareness and adoption of Mehrweg in Berlin.

It is almost as if you can hear the giant sigh of relief as the weather gets nicer, the masks come off, and the people of Berlin opt to enjoy their favorite foods in the park, instead of at the cafe/restaurant.  A reason to celebrate, right?

Yes and no.  It has been a rough two+ years and our local restaurants and cafes have really had to pivot in order to stay in business, meet the ever-changing health guidelines and keep customers happy, but the dark side of all the take-away options is the incredible amount of waste created. According to the Bundesregierung, Germany generates 770 tons of take-away disposable packaging waste every day. 

In 2019, we estimated that in Friedrichshain-Kreuzberg alone, over 42,000 single-use coffee cups are thrown away daily.  If you were to line these up in a row, they would roughly cover the distance from the S-Bahn station Frankfurter Allee to Alexanderplatz. 

You can only imagine how much that number increased during the pandemic and with a new law (Mehrweggesetz) taking effect in January 2023 (which requires businesses larger than 80 square meters or with more than 5 employees to provide consumers with a reusable solution for take-away, and also requires smaller businesses to fill and accept consumers’ own containers brought from home), it is more important than ever to increase awareness about how to avoid single-use packaging, and increase adoption of reusable packaging solutions within gastronomy–regardless if that means using an existing pool-system, creating your own reusable solution, or simply encouraging your customers to bring their own reusable containers.

For our current reusables project in Friedrichshain-Kreuzberg which started in January this year, we spoke to over 100 businesses in our two hot-spots (Boxhagener Platz and Admiral Brücke) to get a sense of the current level of awareness. Of those we spoke to, 70% did not have a current Mehrweg/Reusable offering, and 66% weren’t aware of what Mehrweg was, and/or the options available to them.  On a positive note, more than half of them were keen to learn more. 

On the flip side, when asked if customers had asked for Mehrweg/Reusable options, 74% responded no. So the message was clear: increasing use of reusables in gastronomy requires education and support from both sides – the consumer, as well as the business owners. 

Together with New Standard.s, and some other like-minded climate initiatives in Berlin, we kicked off the picnic season with a BYO-Mehrweg picnic at Boxhagener Markt on the 7th of May.  A social media campaign that reached more than 11,000 people invited everyone to bring their own container and go to a local restaurant/cafe or market stand around Boxi to grab lunch. The first of many actions this summer planned to create awareness about the negative effects of single-use take-away packaging and the benefits of using reusables, the local district mayor, Clara Hermann spoke about the negative effects that take-away packaging has on local parks and green spaces, and also introduced the Frag nach Mehrweg (choose re-use) campaign, which encourages customers to nominate restaurants who they think should adopt a reusable pool-system solution from Vytal, Recup/Rebowl, Tiffin Loop, Relevo, or FairCup. This not only lets their favorite eatery know that there is customer interest for Mehrweg, and gives them an incentive to make the switch… the customer also registers for a chance to win a €50 voucher if a restaurant they nominated implements a reusable option by the end of the summer. 

Nationwide use of reusable cups, food boxes and tableware alone, could save around 800,000 metric tons of CO2 each year. This is no small number, and while it is encouraging that laws are slowly being put into place, it also requires a lot of education and support to make the transition from single-use, to reusable take-away packaging.  We will continue to provide cafes and restaurants in our hot-spots with free consultations, educating them about the options available to them…and will also try to increase consumer awareness through campaigns and action days.  We have a regular presence at the Boxhagener Markt every other Saturday…so feel free to swing by on June 4th to learn more.  You can also download our quick guide, outlining 5 benefits for making the switch to Mehrweg in either German, or English to learn more. 

Our next event will take place around Admiral Brücke towards the end of June. Stay tuned for details, and if you can, please help us spread the word and  #fragnachmehrweg. Real change requires involvement and action from all sides – consumer, business, and government–so, if we truly want to address the amount of waste created as a result of single-use packaging, then we need all hands on deck to help make reusables in gastronomy the norm.

The article is prepared by Meg Koch.

The images made by New Standard.s.