Packaging is part of everyday life. Carelessly discarded, it becomes a problem for people and the environment. Therefore, the goal of a comprehensive circular economy with high-quality material recycling requires further efforts. Representatives from society, business, and politics discussed what these efforts could look like at the first Coca-Cola Real Talk in Berlin.
Member of the Bundestag Judith Skudelny, environmental policy spokeswoman of the FDP parliamentary group, sees the strengthening of closed-loop recycling systems as the focus of the current legislative period: “In Germany, we need to close loops and thus also become a little less dependent on raw material imports from other countries. For this to succeed, everyone is called upon: The industry can make as great an effort as it likes to switch to sustainable products, but if consumers do not accept them, nothing is gained. In addition, there is a need for policymakers to establish appropriate framework conditions so that these conversions in the economy can also be realized and financed.”
“Consumption without waste is only possible with great efforts on the part of the individual and is not feasible in total. Nevertheless, it must be clear that no more packaging should end up in our oceans or the environment,” emphasizes Dr. Bernhard Bauske, marine litter project coordinator at WWF Germany. “The times when raw materials are wasted and turned into waste are definitely over. For plastic, too, we need strict avoidance concepts and a truly functioning circular economy. Because that’s how packaging doesn’t become waste in the first place. This requires joint efforts by both politics and industry.” Looking at packaging innovations, Bauske adds, “Innovations to improve the collection and recycling of materials make a lot of sense, but often, companies just replace one material with another, which leads to new challenges in the long run. Innovations must also address avoidance and fit into the cycle!”
Companies have an important role to play in climate protection and the thoughtful use of resources. Dr. Stefan Kunerth, Technical Operations Director Coca-Cola Western Europe, is aware of this responsibility and states: “For us, packaging is not waste, but an important raw material for new packaging. We are doing our part to close recycling loops so that no waste ends up in the environment. To this end, we set ourselves an ambitious goal in 2018 with our “World Without Waste” sustainability strategy and are continuously monitoring our progress: by 2030, for every bottle or can sold, one is to be taken back and recycled – worldwide. The strategy takes into account the entire life cycle of our packaging – from the design of the bottles or cans to their recycling. In Germany, a lot has already been achieved: 97 percent of non-refillable PET bottles here are returned via the deposit system. Only closed recycling loops can succeed in turning PET bottles back into PET bottles and prevent downcycling.”
An insight into why closed recycling loops and the use of sustainable materials are worthwhile and what it takes to achieve a true circular economy is explained by recycling expert Herwart Wilms, Managing Director of Remondis Sustainable Services GmbH: “The most important first step has already been taken, namely that the true importance of the circular economy has finally been recognized at the highest European level and made a principle of action for the future. However, when it comes to reusing recycled material, we are not yet doing well in Germany. So far, only 13 percent of materials come from recycled raw materials. Yet, increased use could lead to a lasting reduction in CO2 emissions and make a significant contribution to climate protection. If German engineers learn to design products in such a way that they can become raw material suppliers at the end of their life cycle, i. e. that they are resigned for recycling, then we will have the best products in the world with which we can also be world market leaders.”
For Jenny Walther-Thoß, Senior Consultant Sustainability at Berndt + Partner Creality GmbH, companies should also sometimes put their own brand claims on the back burner:”Design for recycling not only means paying attention to the use of sustainable materials, but also changing one’s own packaging design in favor of uniform and recyclable processes. In addition, every product needs a value, for example via a deposit, so that it is appreciated by consumers and returned to the cycle in the end.”