German associations call for binding reusable packaging quotas

By 2022, Germany wants 70% of its plastic bottles to be reusable.   [igorstevanovic/ Shutterstock]

Since the start of this year, a new packaging law that aims to reduce disposable plastics has been in force in Germany. But so far, the share of disposable plastics has actually seen an increase in the beverages sector and German associations criticise the lack of binding regulations. EURACTIV Germany reports.

Germany will not reach its self-imposed targets for reducing plastic waste by 2022, according to the German environmental association Deutsche Umwelthilfe.

Together with beverages associations and the waste industry, the association founded an alliance and calls on the German government to introduce binding reusable quotas.

The new packaging regulation in force since the beginning of the year stipulates that by 2022, 70% of beverage packaging should be constituted of reusable plastic that is environmentally friendly. But currently, the figure is only 43%, and there is a downward trend.

“Unfortunately, we cannot appreciate the environment minister’s efforts that aim to achieve this quota. To achieve it, she should be holding the industry and the market accountable,” Dirk Reinsberg, managing director of the German Association of the Beverage Wholesale Industry, told a press conference on Monday (29 April).

Europe’s packaging headache

European Union members will have to recycle at least 70% of packaging by 2030, under new rules brokered earlier this year. But there are complex mechanisms behind the recycling curtain and not all countries are ready yet to keep up with the pace.

To achieve the plastics target, representatives of the beverage industry are calling for quotas that are binding. So far, the law does not provide for them. The request calls for the share of reusable plastics to reach 50% for this year and 60% for the next.

Discount stores continue to sell disposable plastics   

The need to reduce the flood of disposable plastics is very important.

Germany is Europe’s leader in terms of packaging waste. Around 16.4 billion disposable plastic bottles are produced in Germany each year. If all non-alcoholic beverages were exclusively filled in reusable bottles, 1.25 million tons of CO2 could be saved annually, a figure that corresponds to the carbon emissions of 575,000 mid-range cars.

“The best waste is the one that is not produced. Reusable packaging is therefore key,” explained Reinsberg. Compared to recycling, reusable packaging has the advantage of simply being reused and not being produced again. A glass bottle for mineral water, for example, can be reused up to 50 times.

However, some brands and discount supermarkets are reluctant to accept reusable systems. Deutsche Umwelthilfe cited companies such as Aldi, Lidl, Danone, Nestlé and Lekkerland.

Deutsche Umwelthilfe’s Deputy Executive Director Barbara Metz told EURACTIV that companies were not prepared to convert their existing systems to reusable ones, as this would mean a logistical effort.

MEPs crank up crusade against single-use plastics

MEPs moved on Wednesday (24 October) to ban widely-used, throw-away plastics such as straws, bags and cotton buds, putting the burden on manufacturers to recycle more in an effort to clear up ocean pollution.

Without political pressure, this is unlikely to change.

“The crux is that provisions of the packaging regulation would affect the industry as a whole. This leads to some supermarket chains not having any or far too few products that are packaged with reusable materials,” said Metz. If large retailers do not participate, the 2020 packaging target will be impossible to achieve.

In this case, the German Government reserves the right to take legal measures. But it could only do so from 2022 onwards, too late according to the alliance of German associations pushing for reusable packaging.

“It cannot be the case that something will only happen so late,” said Reinsberg.

The EU tightens its plastic requirements

However, consumers also need to change their purchasing habits. Deutsche Umwelthilfe and its supporters are requesting an extra charge of 20 cents on disposable bottles in addition to the existing bottle deposit (‘pfand’ in German). Customers would be more likely to opt for cheaper, reusable bottles.

Such a tax on disposable bottles would be similar to the plastic tax proposed by EU Commissioner Günther Oettinger last year.

The tax should help fill the EU’s €13 billion budget gap caused by Brexit. Although an EU plastic tax was never implemented, a directive on disposable plastics was passed last December.

In addition to banning plastic plates, cutlery and drinking straws, it requires member states to collect and recycle at least 90% of their disposable bottles by 2025. Germany does not have to worry about this as it has a recycling rate of 97%.

EU nails rapid-fire deal on single-use plastics

Negotiators of the European Parliament, Council and Commission struck a provisional agreement early Wednesday morning (19 December) on banning single-use plastic products like cutlery and food containers, in what is one of the most quickly finalised proposals in recent EU memory.

[Edited by Zoran Radosavljevic]

Further Reading

Why the Commission's new plastic ban threatens to fall flat

The European Commission wants to ban disposable plastic dishware and cutlery. But critics say this is pointless and manufacturers are unimpressed by the idea. EURACTIV Germany’s media partner WirtschaftsWoche reports.

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