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Packaging waste

Types of packaging

Zerdrückte Bierdose im Gras liegend.

Packaging materials are a part of our daily life and are used for many purposes. They ensure the safe delivery of products (transport packaging), serve as containers, protect goods (sales packaging) and are used to improve the presentation of products (secondary packaging). These materials are divided up into different categories in accordance with their respective intended use.

Drinks packaging

Drinks packaging within the meaning of the Packaging Ordinance (Verpackungsverordnung) means closed or mainly closed packaging for liquid foodstuffs within the meaning of section 2 subsection (2) of the Food and Feed Code (Lebensmittel- und Futtermittelgesetzbuch) intended for consumption as drinks, with the exception of yoghurt and kefir.

Compulsory deposits

Deposits on one-way drinks packaging have been compulsory since 1 January 2003. Reusable drinks packaging were promoted as early as 1991 in the Packaging Ordinance (revised in 1998) due to their ecological advantages. After falling short several times of the required 72 percent quota for reusable packaging, intended to protect reusable drinks packaging, a compulsory deposit on one-way drinks packaging for mineral water, beer and carbonated soft drinks such as cola and lemonade came into effect on 1 January 2003.

The Federal Government simplified the provisions regarding the compulsory deposit on non-ecologically advantageous one-way drinks packaging with the Third Ordinance amending the Packaging Ordinance of 24 May 2005.

Since 28 May 2005, all non-ecologically advantageous one-way drinks packaging with a filling volume of 0.1 to 3.0 litres have been subject to a deposit: the compulsory deposit is no longer dependant on achieving a quota. The compulsory deposit is 25 cents for all drinks packaging.

The deposit does not apply to fruit and vegetable juices, milk, wine and spirits and one-way drinks packaging that is regarded as ecologically advantageous (beverage cartons, polyethylene bags and stand-up bags).

More detailed information on compulsory deposit regulations can be found here: Questions and answers on compulsory deposits.

Reusable packaging

Reusable packaging within the meaning of the Packaging Ordinance is packaging that is intended to be reused several times for the same purpose (section 3 Packaging Ordinance). Through the ability to be used several times, this packaging helps to conserve resources and reduce waste. Reusable packaging therefore fulfills the primary goal of waste management i.e. to avoid waste.

This type of packaging is often also preferred for economic reasons. This is why more and more transport packaging is now reusable.

Reusable drinks packaging is placed under special protection in the Packaging Ordinance.

Transport packaging

Transport packaging is packaging that facilitates the transport of goods, protects the goods from damage during transport or is used in the interest of transport safety and arises at the distributor (section 3 Packaging Ordinance).

In accordance with the Packaging Ordinance, manufacturers and distributors have been obligated to accept returned transport packaging since 1 December 1991. The returned transport packaging has to be reused or recycled outside of public waste disposal. Reusable transport packaging has increased considerably in a number of branches as a result of this regulation.

Secondary packaging

Secondary packaging is packaging that is used as packaging additional to sales packaging and is not necessary for transfer to the final consumer for reasons of hygiene, durability or the protection of goods from damage or contamination (section 3 Packaging Ordinance).

According to the Packaging Ordinance, secondary packaging that only serves to improve presentation of the goods can be removed and left at the point of sale. This provision led to a considerably greater burden for retailers, which resulted in many businesses getting rid of secondary packaging within a short period of time.

Sales packaging

Participation in dual systems for waste collection:

Manufacturers and distributors who put sales packaging filled with product and typically arising at the private final consumer into circulation for the first time, are obliged to participate in one or several compliance schemes to ensure the collection of such sales packaging on a full-coverage basis and fulfills the requirements set out in the Annexes to the Packaging Ordinance, for instance regarding recovery quotas for individual packaging materials.

Recovery quotas:

The following quotas for recycling of the packaging materials listed below have been applicable under the Packaging Ordinance since 1 January 1999:

MaterialPercent
Glass75 %
Tin plate70 %
Aluminium60 %
Paper and cardboard70 %

At least 60 percent of plastic packaging must be consigned to recovery, and of that 60 percent at least 36 percent percent has to be consigned to mechanical recycling. A further 24 percent must be consigned to either mechanical recycling or raw material or energy recovery.

Take-back obligation:

Final distributors of sales packaging not arising at the private final consumer, packaging not subject to a dual collection system or not suitable for collection, or of pollutant-containing packaging, are obligated to take back free of charge sales packaging returned by the final consumer at or in the immediate vicinity of the place of actual transfer and to consign it to reuse or recycling outside of public waste disposal. In addition, distributors putting into circulation for the first time, sales packaging covered by a dual collection system not arising at the private final consumer have the option of taking back the packaging themselves and consigning it to recycling instead of participating in a recognised collection system via sector-specific solutions. More information on the requirements for such sector-specific solutions has been published by the Federal Government/Länder Working Group on Waste (LAGA) on its website (in German only).

Sales packaging of pollutant-containing products:

Manufacturers and distributors of sales packaging of pollutant-containing products are obligated to ensure that used and emptied packaging can be returned by the final consumer free of charge within a reasonable distance, and to consign it to reuse or recycling insofar as this is technically possible and economically reasonable.

Pollutant-containing products include:

  1. substances and preparations which if sold in the retail trade would be subject to the ban on self-service pursuant to section 4 of the Chemicals Prohibition Ordinance
  2. plant protection products within the meaning of section 2 No. 9 of the Plant Protection Act
    1. which in Annex I No. 2 of the Hazardous Substances Ordinance are labelled as very toxic, toxic, oxidising or highly flammable or
    2. labelled as harmful to health and labelled with R-phrases R 40, R 62 or R 63 in Annex 3 of the Hazardous Substances Ordinance,
  3. preparations of diphenylmethane-4,4’-diisocyanate (MDI), insofar as such preparations are to be labelled as harmful to health (Xn) under Annex I No. 2 and with R-phrase R 42 under Annex I No. 3 of the Hazardous Substances Ordinance and are put into circulation in pressurised gas packaging (section 3 Packaging Ordinance).

Limiting packaging volumes

The most common packaging materials are glass, paper, card, cardboard, plastic, tin plate, aluminium and wood – all of which are valuable (secondary) raw materials that if recycled or reused, can help to reduce the exploitation of natural resources, lead to energy savings and reduce greenhouse gas emissions. However, to improve recycling options the population must be prepared to separate their waste.

In 1991 in a bid to counteract the ever increasing volumes of packaging, the Federal Government adopted the Packaging Ordinance. This ordinance was the first of its kind to lay down a comprehensive regulation in accordance with the principles of circular economy and for the promotion of product responsibility, i.e. the responsibility of manufacturers and distributors was extended to include the whole process from production to the environmentally friendly disposal of their product.

The obligation of manufacturers and distributors was achieved through the determination of collection and recovery provisions. Dual systems for collection and disposal were subsequently introduced nationwide to uphold this responsibility.

The Packaging Ordinance has proven to be an effective instrument, it has put a stop to the annual increase in packaging consumption. Packaging consumption, for a number of years now, has levelled off at around 17 million tonnes and thus has been decoupled from general economic development.

The concept and implementation of the 1991 Packaging Ordinance have earned a great deal of attention internationally. The German Ordinance gave rise to the implementation of national measures in neighbouring states such as Austria, the Netherlands, Belgium and France, which in turn inspired the adoption of the European Directive 94/62/EC on Packaging and Packaging Waste of 20 December 1994 that is now legally binding for all EU member states.

Last update: 08.12.2016