More Packaging due to Increasing Consumption

Packaging requires less and less material and resources. At the same time, annual consumption of packaging in Germany is rising. These are the findings of a recent study by the Society for Packaging Market Research (GVM). On the occasion of the 8th Packaging Day, five associations of the packaging industry are publishing their study results on the development of consumption behavior, packaging quantities, and material efficiency between 1991 and 2020.

Increased consumption in Germany caused 1.7 million tons (22.2 percent) of additional packaging in 2020 alone compared to 1991. As a recent study by the Society for Packaging Market Research (GMV) shows, 92 percent or 1.6 million tons of consumption-related additional packaging could be saved in Germany in 2020 compared to 1991 through reduced material use. Overall, the material savings achieved by lighter packaging since 1991 amount to 23 million tons.

The fact that packaging consumption has nevertheless grown over the same period is due to the increased level of consumption and a change in consumer behavior. In addition to the increased number of products consumed, structural effects and sociodemographic factors have also led to an increased demand for packaging material. Aspects such as an increased number of smaller households and the increased demand for smaller package sizes have contributed a further 0.9 million tons to the increase in packaging consumption. In the sum of increased consumption level and changed consumption structure minus the efficiency gains through optimized packaging, private final consumption of packaging across all materials increased by 1.04 million tons or 14 percent to 8.7 million tons from 1991 to 2020.

The GVM study was commissioned in May 2022 by the Deutsches Verpackungsinstitut e. V. (dvi), the Arbeitsgemeinschaft Verpackung + Umwelt e.V. (AGVU), the Fachverband Faltschachtel Industrie e. V. (FFI), the Industrievereinigung Kunststoffverpackungen e. V. (IK) and the Industrieverband Papier- und Folienverpackungen e. V. (IPV).

„It’s a bit like the hare and the hedgehog“

„It’s a bit like the hare and the hedgehog. The industry has continuously made packaging lighter and leaner over the past 30 years. But any progress is immediately eaten up by growing consumption. Of course, the huge efficiency gains of recent years are paying off – in terms of the environment and climate, but also in view of the current extreme rise in prices and shortages of raw materials. But it’s also clear that you can’t continue to slim down packaging indefinitely,“ explains Kim Cheng, Managing Director of the German Packaging Institute. After all, the most important priority is to protect the packaged goods, which have a much higher value and ecological footprint than their packaging. In the case of food, for example, the footprint is 16 to 30 times greater. For this reason, she says, the packaging industry has now for some years been focusing hard on solutions for the circular economy, such as full recyclability, the use of recyclates, reusable and refillable solutions, or ever new areas of application for materials made from renewable raw materials. „Nevertheless, we need to put our consumer behavior to the test. As consumers, we are the main culprits behind the increase in packaging consumption. If we want less packaging, we have to change that. Consumption habits and consumption levels are directly linked to packaging volumes. We cannot avoid a broader consumption debate,“ Cheng says.

Comments from the industry

Dr. Carl Dominik Klepper, Chairman of the Board of the Working Group on Packaging and the Environment, explains. „The study proves the progress made in packaging design, especially by reducing the use of resources more and more. The next level goal is the recyclability of all packaging components and the increased use of secondary raw materials, so that only small amounts of virgin material are required in production. It’s also clear that to make real progress in climate and resource protection, mindful consumer behavior is needed.“ Mara Hancker, managing director of the Industrievereinigung Kunststoffverpackungen (IK), says of the study results, „The joint study on consumption habits, material efficiency, and packaging quantities opens up a view that is often narrowed only to waste. In turn, everyone can draw their conclusions from the results: industry, trade, and consumers. Because the study also shows that there is no lone game changer – climate protection is also the result of responsible decisions made by each individual. This includes our lifestyles and, in particular, our consumer behavior.“

Use of recyclates

„This important GVM study provides evidence of the reasons for the increase in packaging consumption over the last three decades. Demographic changes, for example, are leading to more and more smaller households and the mobility of society, which is also a result of labor market policies, is leading to an expanded supply and greater demand for consumer-friendly and hygienic on-the-go supplies. Continuous lightweighting programs to reduce the specific weight of cartonboard packaging have successfully compensated for the increased consumption of packaging, but only in part. This makes it all the more important to increase the overall recyclability of packaging by using recycled materials and increasing their possibility to stay in a circular system in order to protect the climate and natural resources,“ says Christian Schiffers, Managing Director of the Folding Carton Industry Association.

Karsten Hunger, Managing Director of the Industrieverband Papier- und Folienverpackung, comments, „The principle of ‚as little as possible, but as much as necessary‘ applies to the technical design of packaging. The industry has been following this approach for a long time with ever new optimizations. This study is impressive proof of that. At the same time, the entire environment in which packaging is used is changing, be it population structure, living and working conditions, or consumer behavior. The resulting changes in the quantities of products and packaging could not and cannot be fully compensated for by optimizing packaging alone. Therefore, all actors along the entire supply chain right up to the consumer are called upon to constantly review their own actions and decisions with regard to sustainability.“