Packaging waste: Online marketplaces must be subject to better oversight

Online platforms to cooperate on ensuring compliance with Packaging Act

In verschiedene Kisten ordentlich sortierte Materialien wie Altpapier, Altglas und PlastikfalschenClick to enlarge
Only proper sorting of packaging waste leads to good recycling results
Source: Rawpixel.com / Fotolia

The German Environment Agency (UBA) proposes to require operators of online marketplaces to ensure compliance with the Packaging Act on their platforms. "Digital marketplaces can also do more to protect the environment. We recommend that in future all online platforms check before selling goods whether sellers have complied with the obligation to be registered in the Packaging Register. This should be enshrined in law," said UBA President Dirk Messner. Since 1 January 2019, producers of packaging that typically accumulates as waste at private final consumers have been obliged to register in the packaging register. Producers will then share in the costs of collection and recycling. So far, just under 200,000 companies have registered, which is an increase of a bit more than 17 per cent compared to 2019. Around three times as many companies are fulfilling their product responsibility than four years ago.

The new Packaging Act has brought about a change in packaging disposal. A very high proportion (around 80 to 90 percent) of the packaging involved in the dual systems actually goes for recycling rather than incineration. In 2019, around 58.5 per cent of plastic packaging was recycled – a good 50 per cent more than in the previous year. "Very large proportions of our packaging are recycled. I strongly disagree with hearsay that everything that ends up in a yellow bin or sack will be incinerated anyway," says Dirk Messner. The Packaging Act in effect makes an important contribution to combating climate change. Every tonne of plastic that is recycled as a raw material saves about two tonnes of CO2. When projected to the total amount of materially recycled plastic in Germany, this results in a saving of about 900,000 tonnes of CO2 per year.

Germany, produced 18.9 million tonnes of packaging waste in 2018 (including commercial enterprises), or 227.5 kg per capita. Consumer households alone generated 8.9 million tonnes of packaging waste, or 107.2 kg per inhabitant per year. There are ways of tackling this problem, says Dirk Messner. "Many products can also be sold with less or even no packaging, for example large parts of the fruit and vegetable assortment in supermarkets."

Further potential to avoid packaging is offered by reusable shipping packaging in online trade and reusable "to go" packaging, i.e. for food and drink. This trend is going in exactly the wrong direction: the proportion of reusable beverage packaging has been declining for years, down to at 41.2 percent in 2018. A trend reversal is urgently needed and quite feasible. According to UBA, discount shops should also offer beverages in reusable bottles at the same or lower prices than one-way bottles. Online retailers could also use far more reusable shipping packaging, which customers could return free of charge.

Where reusable packaging is not an option, the packaging should not only be designed to save material, but should also contain recycled materials. In principle, much more packaging could also be made from recycled materials from the yellow bag/bin. So far, recyclates have been used in packaging for cleaning agents and paints, among other things. "I see much more potential for this. Much more recyclates can also be used for plant pots, pallets or DIY centre consumer goods. Our aim should be to make it the standard that packaging is made from recycled packaging waste from the yellow bin. It is the only way can we close the loop and reduce the need for raw materials," says Dirk Messner. The European Single-Use Plastics Directive now requires the use of recycled material in disposable PET bottles to be 25 percent from 2025 and 30 percent in all disposable plastic bottles from 2030. The new action plan for recycling as part of the European Green Deal also aims to significantly increase the use of secondary materials.

Diagramm: Entwicklung der in Deutschland angefallenen Verpackungsabfälle
Entwicklung der in Deutschland angefallenen Verpackungsabfälle
Source: Umweltbundesamt