Public obligations for recycling: Germany – a good role model?
Public obligations for recycling: Germany – a good role model?
Germans are known for separating their waste and the stereotype holds true. Copyright: "Mülltrennung wirkt" (waste separation works) initiative / Steffen Jagenburg
Recycling raw materials is one of the three grand principles governing the way in which large parts of the packaging industry are now changing their production – so that our planet will stay habitable for humans for a long time.
All these items of packaging need to be entered into the Packaging Register. Copyright: "Mülltrennung wirkt" (waste separation works) initiative / Steffen Jagenburg
Whether metal, glass, plastics, or paper: The aim is to keep the materials used in packaging in their raw material cycle for as long as possible, in line with the concept of a circular economy, and to thus reduce the usage of new materials.
This impulse not only stems from the industry, but often comes from politics. Within the European Union, for example, the Packaging and Packaging Waste Directive 94/62/EC came into force in 1994. This directive places responsibility on all EU member states ensured that at least 65 percent of the weight of all packaging waste is recycled by the end of 2025, rising to 70 percent by the end of 2030.
To achieve these goals, the Federal Republic of Germany launched the Act on Marketing, Return, and High-Quality Recycling of Packaging (the German Packaging Act) in the summer of 2017, which came into effect on January 1st, 2019. The act aims to significantly increase the amount of recyclable packaging within Germany. The Central Agency Packaging Register was created at the same time, in order to reach this objective.
The Covid-19 pandemic leads to an increase in shipping packages
This public body is charged, among other things, to see to it that the costs incurred during waste collection and the concomitant introduction of any recyclable materials into the respective raw material circulation are fairly distributed among the companies bringing the packaging onto the German market. Therefore, any such company has to register both themselves and their respective types of packaging with the LUCID Packaging Register as of January 1st, 2019. Depending on the guidelines of the public body, companies then have to register with a dual system for the collection and disposal of used sales packaging from private homes.
The 1991 German Packaging Ordinance made it mandatory for companies to take back and recycle any food packaging they had issued. In order to put this obligation into practice, a network was founded with a view to collectively gather all packaging waste from end consumers. Separation of waste starts at home, where customers separate plastic packaging, paper, glass and residual waste which either cannot be recycled at all or only with a large amount of work, and add the different materials to their respective recycling circuit again.
Since the pandemic, more parcels have been sent than ever before. Copyright: Claudio Schwarz / Unsplash
On July 1st, 2022, the Packaging Register entered into another phase. As of now, entry into the Register is mandatory not only for packaging that is sold on-site and in shops and supermarkets, but also for packaging used in mail order or that is handed over as containers for take-away products. With this amendment, the German Federal Government is reacting to an existing trend among consumers, which has gained momentum through the upheaval caused by the COVID-19 pandemic.
In 2020, over four billion deliveries were dispatched – and this number will probably only increase. At the same time, people have not always been focused on environmental friendliness, for example where filling and protective material were concerned. "The market for consumer goods and their packaging has changed significantly over the recent years. From the number of people responsible for a product, to the number of units sold, to shipping, everything has grown, and the packaging is made of new materials. This means that responsibility for a product must grow in proportion to this", says Gunda Rachut, Chairperson of the Central Agency Packaging Register (ZSVR), at a press conference.
Over-regulation or good move?
As of now, these companies also have to register with LUCID and contribute to a dual system. Legislators thus strive to create more transparency and fairness in competition. "Many mail order businesses have been ignoring the fact that they have to pay for their packaging to be recycled. The new mandatory registration increases the pressure on them to take responsibility for their products", says Rachut. Aside from this, electronic marketplaces now have to make sure that online sellers marketing their wares through the platform conform to legal requirements. If they do not, they must be banned from accessing the platform. Likewise, companies issuing pizza boxes, coffee-to-go cups, bakery bags, plastic wrap and any other packaging that is filled with goods either at the point of sale on-site or in markets, have to register with LUCID.
These measures taken by the German Federal Republic are just one example of how the international community is trying to preserve raw materials and to gradually liberate the environment from unnecessary and packaging waste that could actually be recycled. For example, on their website, the World Packaging Organisation (WPO) offers a clear and informative brochure on the recycling plans of more than 20 countries – and more are to follow.
With the amendment of the Packaging Act, the German Federal Government and the Central Agency Packaging Register have taken another step towards comprehensive raw material circulation for packaging. Of course, the registration process does mean an increase in work that should not be underestimated for many companies – especially for companies that are still unfamiliar with the laws and legislation for packaging in Germany. The actual registration process, however, does not take nearly as long as the bureaucratic character of the process might imply. To help, the entire website of the Central Agency Packaging Register is available in English.