Pandemic triggered slight decline in 2020 packaging consumption

Higher volume of household waste contrasts lower volume in commercial sector

Separated packaging in the household, collected in boxes. Glass, cardboard, plastic, etc.Click to enlarge
Household packaging
Source: Rawpixel / Fotolia

The coronavirus pandemic led to a slight decrease in packaging consumption in Germany in 2020, marking the first decline since 2009. Total packaging waste in 2020 was 18.8 million tonnes, or 0.7 per cent less than in 2019. Per capita, this is 1.7 kg less than the average 225.8 kg. Household consumers generated 46 per cent of the total amount, i.e. more than 8.7 million tonnes or 104.9 kg per capita. This also represents an increase of 1.6 per cent over the previous year. UBA President Dirk Messner said: "The overall effect of the pandemic on our packaging consumption has been to reduce it. However, we fear that this will not last long, as is the case with greenhouse gas emissions. This is why our goal remains to cut packaging consumption in Germany overall. This can be achieved with reusable packaging and with less and lighter packaging. Recycling must be made easier in cases where packaging cannot be avoided.”

The pandemic led to higher consumption of packaging in private households, as people consumed more at home. This includes shipping and food packaging. The trend towards DIY is also reflected in packaging consumption. Tinplate consumption, which had previously been declining, increased by 7.3 per cent in 2020. Tinplate is used as packaging for paints, varnishes and glazes.

Plastic packaging consumption increased. Following 2019, which marked the first yearly decline, consumption bounced back by 1.2 percent, to 3.2 million tonnes, in 2020. Despite the lockdown and discontinued production in some sectors, there was an increase in volumes of plastic packaging in industry and commerce as well as in private households. However, lockdown and discontinued production caused significant declines, e.g. in cafeterias, restaurants and the food industry. Household consumption was significantly higher, e.g. for food packaging, bottles for disinfectants and cleaning agents or for paint buckets.

The commercial sector as a whole recorded a significant decline in packaging consumption. The decline is evident in the consumption of steel packaging (steel drums, steel pallets or steel straps), down by ten per cent. The situation is similar for wooden packaging (pallets or crates), where consumption decreased by 6.6 per cent.

Recycling rates rose for all materials. The demanding recycling rates of the Packaging Act are increasingly leading to improvements in sorting and recycling. Of all packaging waste, 68.2 per cent was sent to the final recycling process, with the remainder largely recovered for energy purposes. The recycling rates for the individual materials were as follows:

  • Glass 79.7%
  • Paper, cardboard 84.2%
  • Ferrous metal 87.5%
  • Aluminium 62.1%
  • Plastics 46.2%
  • Wood 32.6%

A new calculation method no longer enables a comparison of these percentages with figures prior to 2019.

Further information

Total consumption includes the following types of packaging: Sales packaging, reusable packaging, transport packaging, packaging of fillers containing harmful substances and disposable components of reusable packaging. The recycling rates indicated for the total volume refer to all packaging waste generated in Germany that was recycled within Germany or abroad. There is a difference between these and the quotas specified in the German Packaging Act. The latter are the minimum quotas that the dual systems must achieve for the packaging subject to mandatory participation in the system. The latter is packaging filled with goods and outer packaging that typically accumulates as waste at the end consumer after use. The recycling quotas of the Packaging Act are not determined in relation to the amount of packaging waste generated, but rather in relation to the participation quantities and the amount of lightweight packaging collected. Information on the fulfilment of these quotas will be published separately at a later date.The point of intersection for the calculation of Germany’s recycling rates has shifted from the start of the recovery process to the end of the process chain. This new point is legally binding as of the 2020 reporting year. Consequently, the points of calculation remain the same, but material losses up to the quota intersection are mathematically deducted from the recycling rate. Ultimately, recycling rates are lower compared to the previous calculation method.

This method was already applied in Germany for figures from 2019. Increases in recycling rates can be seen for all materials. The accuracy of the values at the new quota interface may be affected in the first few years. However, if one compares the values at the previous point of intersection (input to the first recycling facility), mechanical recycling reaches a new high of 73.7% (2019: 71%).

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 packaging waste  packaging consumption  household waste  commercial waste  Corona crisis