“Headline Politics Won’t Get us Anywhere”

As part of the German Packaging Congress 2021, Kim Cheng demands not to commit to certain types of packaging in an image-driven way. Nevertheless, the managing director of the dvi is pleased that packaging is being certified by consumers as having made progress in terms of sustainability.

Be it food or medical products: packaging has special significance in these segments. So, it’s no wonder that Kim Cheng, Managing Director of the German Packaging Institute (dvi), once again emphasized at the opening of the German Packaging Congress 2021: “Packaging is systemically relevant.” No lockdown for sustainability and innovation – the motto of the congress highlights the current area of tension: The challenges of the Corona pandemic once again clearly demonstrate the protective functions of packaging. At the same time, the demands for more sustainability are growing.

Packaging is perceived as more sustainable

Progress seems to have been made in communicating with consumers. According to a survey conducted by the dvi, 44 percent of respondents believe that packaging has made progress in terms of environmental friendliness, with only 15.7 percent seeing regress. Furthermore, 74.6 percent confirm that these advances have been achieved without compromises or even with advances in functionality and convenience. “The industry’s innovation work continues unabated, especially when it comes to packaging sustainability,” Cheng says.

Improve life cycle assessment

Nevertheless, the dvi managing director sees a need for action in life cycle assessments and in the circular economy. “The image-driven commitment to a particular material or type of packaging is counterproductive. Headline politics won’t get us anywhere,” Cheng emphasizes, particularly in the direction of politics. A life cycle assessment includes, for example, the material used in production but also in recycling, the weight and volume of the packaging as a factor in transport, the transport routes within the value chain, the use of water or chemicals for production or cleaning in the case of reusable packaging, and, last but not least, consideration of the requirements of the goods to be packaged.

“Here, politics must not duck away,” says Cheng. It must say which factors are decisive for the evaluation of sustainability and to what extent, she said. For Cheng recycling is the decisive factor. “In addition, however, we also need an objective and generally valid model for assessing the sustainability of packaging. There is no way around life cycle assessments here.”

Driving recycling

With a view to greater sustainability, the use of recyclate is central for Cheng. “Especially with plastic, we can only close loops if the material is not only collected and recycled, but the recyclate is also used for new packaging. Only when there is a functioning market for recyclate can the circle be closed.” Here, too, she said, it was up to policymakers. “There are diverse models for promoting the use of recyclate. There will be no solution that takes all interests into account. Nevertheless, it is important that there is a solution.”

One way to promote the use of recyclate, for example, was pointed out by Reinhard Schneider, managing partner of detergent and cleaning agent manufacturer Werner & Mertz. He calls for financial incentives from lawmakers for the use of post-consumer recyclate (PCR) and advocates the creation of a fund into which all distributors would have to pay and only those who use PCR would receive a refund.

Getting consumers on board

Circular economy only works, if all stakeholders participate. “Consumers are a crucial element,” Cheng emphasizes. After all, only what has been properly disposed of in collection systems eventually reaches recycling facilities. “To make their task as easy as possible, packaging must clearly indicate how to dispose of it.”

Consumers want this, too: in summer 2020, for example, the Schwarz Group conducted an online survey on the subject of waste separation in Germany. The results showed that 80 percent of respondents wanted easily accessible information on separating packaging – preferably directly on the product. In March 2021, Kaufland has now announced that it will successively introduce separation notices on multi-component packaging. The separation notices provide information about the materials from which the individual packaging components are made. The aim is to motivate customers to dispose of their packaging correctly and, thus, contribute to better recycling. It is to be hoped that consumers will then also follow the instructions.

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