Recycling of Plastic Packaging Overtakes Energy Recovery for First Time

Plastic Recycling Key to Recovering More of Germany’s 18m tonnes of Packaging

A total of 18.16 million tonnes of packaging waste was generated in Germany in 2016, an increase of .05% over 2015, according to an updated report by the German Environment Agency.

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A total of 18.16 million tonnes of packaging waste was generated in Germany in 2016, an increase of .05% over 2015, according to an updated report by the German Environment Agency (UBA) on the occurrence and recovery of packaging in Germany.

The amount is equivalent to 220.5 kg per capita, compared to the 167.3 kg per capita consumption in the EU in 2015. 70% of the total packaging waste was recycled, with most of the remainder used for the production of energy.

"We in Germany generate far too much packaging – taking the sad lead in Europe. It is bad for the environment and for resource consumption,” commented UBA President Maria Krautzberger. “We must now further promote recycling and the use of recycled materials in order to conserve resources.”

“Above all we must avoid waste already in the production phase by doing without unnecessary and unnecessarily material-intensive packaging. Also, refillables systems must be strengthened which have a clear ecological advantage over disposable packaging," Krautzberger continued.

The recycling quota varies depending on the packaging: it is relatively high for glass (85.5%), paper/cardboard (88.7%), aluminium (87.9%) and steel (92.1%).

Plastics (49.7%) and wood (26%) still hold a lot of potential. Plastic packaging in particular – because of the diversity of the materials concerned – is difficult to sort and recycle. Nevertheless, the recycling of plastics packaging in 2016 was 0.9% higher than in the previous year - higher for the first time than the rate for energy production.

Krautzberger also urged that "valuable plastics in particular must be recycled at a higher rate". 

New Packaing Act
The new Packaging Act enters into force on 1 January 2019. The minimum requirement is that the recycling of plastics in packaging in the dual system is further boosted. The initial target is set at 58.5%, which is to be increased to 63% as of 2022.

It applies to all packaging which obliges the producers in the Dual System to participate and also to waste which must be disposed of via the waste collection system (glass, paper, the yellow bag, yellow bin, recycling bin and collection sites). 

The share of private end users in total packaging waste volume was 47% (8.52 million tonnes overall), equivalent to 103.5 kg per capita. There are a number of reasons for the continuing trend towards high levels of packaging consumption.

One example cited by the UBA is the additional functions in packaging including dosing aids or complex seals which require more material and are more difficult to recycle. Furthermore, the trend continues for a preference for smaller over larger size packaging, mail ordering instead of local shopping and takeaway food consumption.

Nevertheless, the agency said that consumption of plastic packaging by domestic end users decreased slightly: from 25 kg to 24.9 kg per capita. In contrast, more glass and aluminium packaging is being used, presumably because it is replacing plastic packaging. However, the production of glass and aluminium is very energy-intensive.

Krautzberger commented: "Replacing plastic packaging with other packaging materials is not always a viable ecological alternative. It would be better to use less packaging and to keep it more simple.“ 

Exports of packaging waste amounted to 10.9%, all of which was destined for recycling. Import and export of paper and cardboard waste is balanced whereas imports of glass packaging exceeded their export. 10.6% of plastic packaging waste was exported, with no imports of same. 

The updated report on the occurrence and recovery of packaging waste devotes a special chapter to neodymium magnets which are being used increasingly in short-lived packaging.

The magnets are mainly used to seal boxes and are an interfering substance in the cardboard/paper fraction when it comes to disposal. Neodymium is a rare earth and classified as a critical resource.

Around 4.5 tonnes of neodymium-containing magnets were present in packaging waste in Germany in 2017, about 1.5 tonnes of which was pure neodymium. There is no recovery system in place up to now for the recovery of neodymium from packaging, which means the rare metal is lost in the scrap iron fraction. 

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