Packaging Register: Pressure on companies grows

From the German Federal Environment Agency’s point of view, the launch of the new Packaging Register has gone very well so far. However, breaches have been discovered in 2,000 cases and the first fines have been imposed.

„The Central Packaging Register Office set up the Packaging Register quickly and professionally. After the successful start, it is now time for manufacturers to invest more effort in avoiding packaging. The German federal states should also now do more to fulfil their legal obligation to impose fines on freeloaders who evade registration,“ says Maria Krautzberger, President of the German Federal Environment Agency (UBA). In the new Packaging Register, companies and consumers can see which packing manufacturers are registered and participate in the costs of the utilization as prescribed by law.

The new Packaging Register began its work on 1 January 2019. Since 1 January 2019, manufacturers of packaging that typically accumulate as waste at private end consumers have also been obliged to register in the Packaging Register. To date, around 170,000 companies have complied with this requirement. Despite intensive information work, however, the registrations and the participation numbers are not yet sufficient. Some manufacturers continue to pay too little or no fees for the collection and recycling of their packaging. The Central Packaging Register Office has set up effective mechanisms to monitor which manufacturers and systems do not fulfil their obligations sufficiently. „This creates the basis for a consistent prosecution of these regulatory offences by the States. The federal states must now take action and pursue these administrative offences consistently with the necessary personnel“, said Maria Krautzberger.

Gaps in online trading

From the point of view of environmental protection, there are other important jobs to be done. First and foremost is the avoidance of packaging. Packaging consumption in Germany is at its historically highest level and continuing to rise. According to the UBA, manufacturers and initial distributors, such as online retailers, are particularly called upon to reverse the trend. Packaging should be limited to the extent necessary and more reusable packaging systems should be established. The proportion of reusable beverage packaging in particular has been declining for years. In 2017 it was only 42.2 percent. Further potential for packaging avoidance is offered, for example, by reusable mail-order packaging in online retailing and reusable „to-go“ packaging, i.e. for eating and drinking on the move.

However, many companies are still not treating their product responsibility so strictly. „We have several hundred thousand companies that we want to reach,“ said Gunda Rachut, Board Member of the Central Packaging Register Foundation (ZSVR). She pointed out that there are 300,000 online retailers selling their products in Germany alone. Rachut said it was astonishing how carelessly companies dealt with the topic. Many are apparently not even aware that it is mandatory to register. “Both in our inquiry portal and in the evaluation of the figures and reports available to us, we have found that ignorance of the duties is high. We are astonished to see that compliance with the Packaging Act is at a relatively low level,” stated Rachut in an interview in July.

First fines imposed

So far (as of the end of October), the authority has discovered infringements in around 2,000 cases  and passed them on to the respective lower waste authorities in the States who are responsible for the fines. According to the ZSVR, the first fines of up to EUR 25,000 have already been imposed.

Where reusable packaging is not an option, the packaging should be designed to save materials and be easy to recycle. Where possible, it should also contain recycled materials. In principle, many non-food packaging could be made from recyclates from the yellow sack/waste bin. So far, recyclates have been used, for example, in packaging for cleaning agents and paints. The EU Disposable Plastics Directive now prescribes the use of recyclates in disposable PET bottles at a rate of 25 percent from 2025 and 30 percent in all disposable plastic bottles from 2030 onwards.

In order for manufacturers to make their packaging more recyclable, the Packaging Act stipulates that dual systems must provide manufacturers with incentives. To support this, the Central Packaging Register Office and the UBA have published the minimum standard for measuring recyclability. This shows when packaging is well recyclable. Manufacturers and retailers are already using the minimum standard as an important orientation. UBA will continuously evaluate the extent to which the dual systems‘ incentives lead to better recyclable packaging.

UBA advises manufacturers to dispense completely with certain forms of packaging that make recycling very difficult. These include labels that cover the complete packaging (so-called full-sleeve labels) or plastic packaging dyed black with carbon black – in both cases, the sorting systems cannot recognize the material correctly and then recycle it properly.