Grocery discounters should offer more deposit bottle beverages

Germans producing 30 per cent more packaging waste than 20 years ago

returnable glass bottles with mineral water in a crateClick to enlarge
A returnable bottle replaces the use of up to 40 one-way bottles or cans.
Source: Sauerlandpics /

The German Environment Agency (UBA) is appealing to the grocery trade to include deposit bottle alternatives in their beverage range in addition to non-returnables. "The labelling on store shelves (returnable/non-returnable) required under the new Packaging Act will only lead to success if both types are available on the market. The merchants who are rejecting returnables must also commit to more prevention of waste and make returnable bottles the universal choice in beverage packaging. We have seen with the example of plastic bags that consumers are supportive of waste avoidance with many who have given up single-use bags", said UBA's President Maria Krautzberger during a campaign week of waste avoidance in Berlin.

Ms Krautzberger welcomed the further increase the proportion of returnable beverage packaging as one of the objectives in the draft Packaging Act but also criticised the retail sector for failing to switch to returnable bottles across the board. "Only 26.9% of soft drinks and 40.6% of bottled waters are currently offered in returnable packaging. But a returnable bottle can replace up to 40 one-way bottles or cans. Reusables are and remain the best way to avoid waste", said Ms Krautzberger.

Besides having the option of purchasing returnable bottles, Ms Krautzberger also recommended linking the costs of packaging waste much more closely with the licence fees in the dual system. She said: "The licence fees must reflect the real costs that the disposal of packaging incurs. In future, the rate must depend not on material but rather on the recyclability of the packaging. Recyclability as well as the share of recyclables in packaging should be taken into account in the calculation of licence fees", said Ms Krautzberger. Plastics made of bright polypropylene (PP) are easily recycled; this is not the case with multilayered polyethylene terephthalate (PET) with barrier liners. Water insoluble plastics or incompatible inks can also have a negative impact on recycling. These factors must be taken into consideration in licence fees in future.

According to UBA , the volume of packaging waste in general rose by over 30 per cent between 1996 and 2014. Private households account for the majority of this due to packaging for beverages, groceries and pet food. Although these goods represent only 12% of consumer spending, they comprise nearly 68% of private households' packaging waste.

There are a number of reasons for the greater volumes of waste, for example elaborate packaging which sometimes has special functions like spray bottle glass and bath cleaners, whose nozzles automatically produce unnecessary waste. Reusable bottles with an attachment and for which merchants offer cheaper and environmentally friendly refills are a better option and will also generate greater customer loyalty to a product.

Demographic factors are another critical reason for packaging waste. There are more and more one-person households in urban areas, whether students or senior citizens, which are opting for smaller packaging units when they purchase consumer goods. The result: more per capita waste. Another popular trend: more and more people are going out to eat or have food delivered home. Delivery pizza alone accounts for a rise in packaging waste of 170% in the 2000-2012 period, and exponentially more for coffee "to go".

In addition to packaging waste, large quantities of food waste are produced by eating out. Roughly one third of all the food in Germany cooked for out-of-home consumption ends up in the waste bin. A lot of the discarded food served at restaurants, cafés, snack bars or at catered events, trade fairs and private parties is still edible. The German Environment Agency has compiled a guide on waste avoidance (in German) together with experts in the restaurant trade (Leitfaden zur Vermeidung von Lebensmittelabfällen beim Catering).

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