Less Waste, More Recyclates

Thinking comprehensively about the Circular Economy for packaging: this is what Dr. Bettina Rechenberg from the Federal Environment Agency called for in her presentation during the German Packaging Congress. The German Packaging Institute had invited to the virtual industry meeting from May 17 to 18, 2022. Numerous experts spoke about Circular Economy and current challenges of the packaging industry.

The packaging industry could make its contribution to advancing the circular economy. Dr. Bettina Rechenberg, head of the UBA department „Sustainable Products and Production, Circular Economy“, gave clear recommendations for action in her presentation during the German Packaging Congress.

A trend reversal in the volume of packaging was possible through material-efficient packaging design and smaller packaging. Another step, she said, was to strengthen reusable packaging systems. „New pool systems should be launched,“ said the Federal Environment Agency expert. The goal was to achieve a share of beverages filled in reusable beverage packaging of at least 70 percent, she said. In 2019, the reusable share of beverage packaging in Germany had been only 41.8 percent, Rechenberg said.

Online retailers also had a duty to reduce packaging volumes, she added. Consumption of paper packaging in distance sales increased by 607 percent from 1996 to 2017, Rechenberg reported. She said the UBA study „Greening Online Trade“ showed that the number of shipments by courier, express and parcel services increased by 740 million shipments from 2014 to 2018 (+ 27 percent).  The forecast by the German E-Commerce and Mail Order Association predicts a further similar increase for 2019 to 2023.

Packaging volumes have increased by 18.1 percent since 2010. Per capita consumption in Germany is 227.55 kg, well above the EU average of 177.38 kg.

In addition to waste prevention, more recycling-friendly design and a further increase in recycling volumes would have to be driven forward for high-quality recycling, she said. The use of secondary raw materials/recyclates would have to be increased.

According to UBA, 474 kt of plastic recyclates (255 kt post-consumer, 219 kt post[1]industrial) were used in packaging in Germany in 2019, which would represent 10.9 percent of the volume processed (4,369 kt). Depending on the restrictions on certain desired properties that are accepted, the potential use of recycled plastics in packaging would be between 960 kt and 2,220 kt.