Of course, if packaging never comes into existence in the first place, this will cause the least amount of damage. That is why the prevention of packaging is at the very top of the hierarchy of goals. The changes that society has undergone in recent years, such as the sharp rise in online retail and takeaways (to-go coffee), an increase in single-person households, and more working parents (more processed foods and ready meals) have led to a marked increase in the use of packaging. The ecological footprint of packaged goods is generally much greater than that of the packaging itself. Against this backdrop, requirements for packaging have also increased. In keeping with the principle of prevention, packaging is designed to increase the shelf life of products considerably. However, it is precisely this issue which currently leads to situations where occasionally packaging is used that is only partly suitable for recycling, or which cannot undergo high-quality recycling, for example because of the use of barrier coatings. Another example is small 'single-serving' packaging, which prevents food waste but increases the use of packaging and leads to an increase in the number of packaging units. These conflicting ecological goals highlight the complexity of the issue.
It is for this reason that it is all the more important that in situations where the use of packaging cannot be prevented, such packaging should be reusable or suitable for high-quality recycling. Producer responsibility must be structured comprehensively; the entire value chain has to be engaged, and consumers need to be provided with more information. In order to make this a reality, it is necessary to set and achieve high quantitative and qualitative targets. This is what the Verpackungsgesetz (Packaging Act) of 12 July 2017 is designed to implement.
Producers within the meaning of the Verpackungsgesetz (e.g. manufacturers, retail companies, importers, mail order companies and online retailers) have to finance the recovery and recycling of their packaging by concluding a system participation agreement with a system operator. This payment obligation is an early incentive to prevent packaging. Those who place less packaging onto the German market as a matter of course need to devote fewer financial resources to assuming extended producer responsibility for their products. In the past, this has worked well, at least with those who actually fulfilled this obligation; however, there has been a high proportion of free riders – particularly in areas that experienced material increases in the use of packaging.
An overview of the system operators can be found here.
No company should be able to shirk the responsibility of financing the recycling of packaging subject to system participation that they place on the German market with their goods any more. In order to put a stop to free riding, the Verpackungsgesetz clarified a number of definitions and provisions, and created the ZSVR.
- Parties responsible for products will be registered in the LUCID Packaging Register, so anyone can see who they are.
- The administrative regulations of the ZSVR ensure that the legal requirements are applied uniformly and that the respective producers are treated equally.
- The centralised database – the LUCID Packaging Register – enables the ZSVR to transparently check whether all the involved parties have properly reported their volumes.
This will hopefully mean that soon all producers/distributors will benefit from the envisaged ecological incentive effect of the Verpackungsgesetz,
- as the companies under obligation meet their extended producer responsibility and
- bear the cost of recycling for their packaging filled with goods that typically ends up in a private final consumer’s waste.
Click here for the LUCID Packaging Register.
Not only the companies under obligation themselves report their packaging volumes to the ZSVR, the system operators report the volumes filed with them to the ZSVR as well. The system operators’ report is used for checks, amongst other things.
This is to ensure that the system operators’ recycling costs correspond to their participation volumes. This creates an even playing field between the systems; the rules are set by the ZSVR in coordination with the German Federal Cartel Office.
To learn more about the calculation of market shares, click here.
In the past years, the recovery or recycling rates were raised to a point where it was only possible to achieve them if all the parties involved made a concerted effort. Measures were required at every stage of the value chain. The ZSVR monitors recycling rates to ensure transparency in this respect as well. This is a massive drive for the environmental sector in Germany – new technology that is needed urgently around the globe needs to be developed.
Facts and figures: The system operators’ recycling rates for previous years can be found here.
Every year, the ZSVR develops and publishes a minimum standard to measure how recycling-friendly the design of packaging is. After the annual update, the minimum standard is published on 1 September of each year. Using this as a basis, system operators must then create financial incentives to encourage sustainable design in packaging. This is necessary both in order to achieve the high recycling rates as well the other goals of the Verpackungsgesetz over the long term. It strengthens the ecological incentives created by system participation fees.
When is packaging recyclable – and what are the advantages of recycling-friendly design? This knowledge base offers further information on this and on the minimum standard.
The system operators must provide information about recovery figures and the rationale of separate collection systems, regionally and transregionally. This is defined in the Verpackungsgesetz. The quality of recyclable waste collections has deteriorated continuously over the last several years because the pre-sorting efforts of consumers (which are critically important) have not been supported through informational campaigns and motivation. In order to meet the recycling rates, this has to change. That is why the system operators have started the initiative ‘Waste separation works’ to educate consumers about proper waste disposal and recycling. For further information about the initiative, please visit its website under www.muelltrennung-wirkt.de/en/.