„Recycling is a real challenge“

Dr. Torben Erbrath, Managing Director of the Federal Association of the German Confectionery Industry (Bundesverband der Deutschen Süßwarenindustrie e.V.) (BDSI) explains, among other things, the special features of confectionery packaging.

Are packaging in the confectionery sector more creative and complex than in other food sectors?

Not fundamentally in terms of design and materials, but each product group has its own special features. The gift and impulse character of confectionery leads to packaging that is supposed to act as an attractive eye-catcher. This applies above all to gifts and seasonal articles. Pralines, for example, are such a classic gift item.

Which materials are predominantly used for confectionery packaging?

We work with very complex and very different materials. In terms of quantity, PET probably accounts for a large proportion of thermoformed trays, which are also used for pralines and pastries. This proportion is likely to be lower for sweet wrappers. And then we have many composite materials because of the high food safety requirements. I am thinking, for example, of materials with barrier layers.

Many of these materials are currently under criticism.

In the food and confectionery sectors, there are packaging materials that are problematic in terms of recycling, such as thermoformed trays, soot-coloured black materials and composite materials. These are not recyclable in the waste management industry, even if recycled materials are used. This is a real challenge and it should change, especially for thermoformed PET trays, as PET bottles can be easily recycled. Another problem is the wrapping materials (except aluminium) for small pieces such as sweets and chocolates. These so-called wrappers are often simply too small to be sorted and recycled. For such materials, especially PET thermoformed trays, the disposal and recycling industry should find solutions. On the other hand, there are also some very positive examples: For example, many household ice cream packs are made of mono-materials that are easily recyclable.

To what extent does the confectionery industry feel the pressure from the new packaging law?

The pressure comes not only from the Packaging Act and the dual systems, but also from the trade. In the confectionery sector, we have about 30 percent private label share. As a result, many confectionery manufacturers produce private labels. And the trading companies in turn have opened up competition in terms of recyclability in their commitments. Several retailers have published concrete percentage targets for the recyclability of their packaging in conjunction with annual figures – whether by 2030, 2025 or 2022. This inevitably puts pressure on the suppliers of these retailers. And it is not even clear whether the necessary recycling capacity is available.

In addition, the Packaging Act obliges the dual systems to create incentives for discounting sustainable, recyclable packaging materials. The aim was to exert monetary pressure on manufacturers by staggering the participation fees.

After all, the manufacturers were already sitting at the table in the run-up to the draft Packaging Act. As a result, you knew what to expect.

Yes, but above all with regard to the Central Office for Packaging Registers. However, the text of the law remained vague with regard to the promotion of recyclability. The implementation of these requirements was still unclear. No one knew in advance how the requirements could be achieved – not even the Federal Ministry for the Environment and the Dual Systems. Therefore, the Central Office and cyclos GmbH were entrusted with the formulation of the basic requirements and the dual systems still have the freedom to scale the financial incentives.

And how does the confectionery industry react to this?

We have already held several workshops on the implementation of the Packaging Act, among others with the Central Office and the Dual Systems, in order to work out how this can be organised. Environment, sustainability and recyclability are important issues for us. That is why we are already working on the recyclability of plastic packaging, especially since recyclability can also bring a competitive advantage. Perhaps Germany will even become a pioneer in this area once again. In the environmental sector in general, we have unfortunately fallen behind in many areas. However, the confectionery industry cannot achieve this on its own, and the users of packaging as a whole, the manufacturers of packaging materials, the disposers and the dual systems are all equally in demand.