The Myth Surrounding the Yogurt Cup

The German Packaging Institute (dvi) held its 7th „Packaging Day“ on June 10, 2021. The program included a specialist panel with the participation of the German Federal Ministry for Economic Affairs and Energy and leading representatives from Coca-Cola Germany, Duales Holding System, Huhtmaki and NABU.

The virtual discussion panel at „Packaging Day“ focused primarily on the questions of what the Packaging Act has moved forward and what amendments should come. The German Packaging Institute (dvi), the Working Group Packaging + Environment e.V. (AGVU) as well as the Initiative Gelbe Tonne (geTon) had invited to the debate. As a member of parliament for many years, he had always thought there was nothing more complicated than the inheritance tax law, said Florian Pronold, Parliamentary State Secretary of the Federal Environment Ministry. „But it can get more complicated, the packaging law has shown.“ The German Packaging Act transposes the European Packaging Directive 94/62/EC into German law. It regulates the placing of packaging on the market as well as the return and high-quality recycling of packaging waste. The Corona pandemic has increased packaging volumes, Pronold said. In addition, many retail chains are imposing minimum requirements on packaging, so the demands are also growing.

State Secretary: simplify packaging design

The Packaging Act and its amendments had increased recycling rates, he said. „I’m glad to see how since then, with the goal of meeting recycling quotas, waste recyclers and packaging manufacturers have entered into dialogue and found solutions.“

But from a consumer perspective, he said, industry also needs to do a better job of designing its packaging so that even more recycling is possible. „People get annoyed when they separate waste, but a large part ends up in incineration,“ Pronold told an audience of about 180 at the virtual panel. „Packaging design should be simple enough that consumers can manage to separate. There’s still room for improvement.“

Dr. Dominik Klepper, CEO of AGVU, added that the industry was already creating better recycling conditions. For example, he said, digital watermarks had been incorporated into packaging for sorting processes.

Andreas Michalsky, packaging engineer at packaging manufacturer Huhtamaki, explained that a lot was currently happening when it comes to the circular economy. „We’re seeing an unprecedented willingness to make a difference – from raw materials to recycling.“ Regarding the accuracy of sorting plastic waste, he said there was „still room for improvement.“ „Seventy percent of packaging is recyclable today, and another 20 percent can be converted by 2025.“ He said there remained a small residue of packaging that is currently not recyclable, which cannot be converted overnight and also has its justification – for example, a change in pharmaceutical packaging was sensitive.

What role do consumers play? This question came up again and again. Helmut Schmitz from the dual system Der Grüne Punkt (the green dot) explained that consumers must be „activated“ more strongly to separate waste. Claudia Fasse from the Initiative Gelbe Tonne (geTon) agreed and was more explicit: „Consumers are lost. They need more insight into what goes into the yellow garbage can.“ They decided whether to buy packaging and are also responsible for presorting. „The yogurt cup going back to being a yogurt cup is a myth.“ There needed to be better communication about what happens to products after they are recycled, she said. If food packaging could be turned into packaging for cleaning products or a flower pot, she said, there should be more reporting of these life cycles.

Coca-Cola expert: recyclate currently precious

Uwe Kleinert, head of sustainability at Coca-Cola Germany, explained that PET recyclate use in the company in Germany would be 70 percent by the end of the year. PET recyclate is currently in high demand on the market, he said, so „we would like to see PET from beverage bottles being used for beverage bottles.“ If any is then left over, it could be used for other products, he said. But at present, he said, the product was in short supply.

Sascha Roth of the Nature and Biodiversity Conservation Union of Germany (NABU) supports companies‘ efforts to use more recyclate. However, his goal is to establish more packaging-free systems. He, too, observed that few consumers actually separated said yogurt cup by, for example, removing the paper sleeve from the plastic cup. „You have to do product design well. We need more mono packaging.“ Thick mono material was better for recycling, Michalsky added. „We have a conflict: if I reduce packaging weight, I lose a piece of recyclability,“ Schmitz concluded.

All participants in the discussion agreed that the challenges posed by the EU directives had to and could be met in Germany. The Packaging Act had implemented important requirements by the European Commission. The Corona pandemic had also shown that „there is no lockdown for the packaging industry,“ said Kim Cheng, managing director of the dvi, who moderated the panel.

Manufacturers and brand-name companies are displaying a selection of modern packaging solutions for Packaging Day in an online exhibition on the tag-der-verpackung.org website.