Packaging waste is still increasing
15 Sep 2020
Packaging is a permanent feature of our consumer society. Disposable plates, yoghurt pots, mobile phone packaging – on average, each person in Germany generates 226.5 kg of packaging waste each year, and this figure is set to grow. Since the start of the corona crisis, packaging waste in private households has increased by a huge 10%.
However, the majority of packaging waste is generated by companies rather than by the end users. The tightening of the Ecodesign Directive is one important step in the right direction for preventing electronic waste. Other measures, such as banning single use plastics, should have a positive influence on the environment. In future however, packaging waste should be reduced in the production phase or, where possible, avoided altogether.
There are multiple causes for the increasing amounts of packaging:
- For a long time now, packaging has not only served the purpose of ensuring safe transportation, but is rather intended to help customers make their purchase decisions at the point-of-sale. Consumers prefer packaging which is easy to reseal or which aids measuring out portions. This often results in more material being used and makes recycling more difficult.
- Sales online are also growing constantly. This is primarily because it is simple and convenient for consumers to purchase products on the internet. However, distance selling requires a higher number of repackaging steps – which in turn results in a greater impact on the environment.
- Increasing economic growth results in a constant stream of new products – but more products mean more packaging waste.
- In recent years, the number of single or two-person households has risen. This means smaller portions are purchased, which in turn results in more packaging waste.
The current recycling situation
At the moment, 70% of all packaging is recycled. Although that isn’t bad, there is still plenty of room for improvement.
Paper recycling in Germany works very well, with a recovered paper utilisation rate of 76%. The fibres from paper, paperboard and cardboard can be reintroduced to the circular economy after use and converted to fibrous raw material. Natural brown cardboard is the most sustainable. This consists primarily of recycled fibres and is not bleached.
In Germany, only 16% of all plastic waste is processed to recyclate, or recycled plastic. Only a small portion of this has the same quality as new plastic. It is often only possible to manufacture products where quality is less important, e.g. street signs. This doesn’t mean it doesn’t make sense to recycle plastic – but all the same, wherever possible, plastic should be avoided right from the start.
What obligations are there for businesses?
There has been new legislation for packaging since 2019. The aim is to promote multi-use packaging and improve recyclability. Companies which use plastic packaging must ensure that at least 58.5% of it is recyclable. So from 2022, the recycling rate for plastics should be 63%. Furthermore, companies must participate in a dual collection system.
Proper recycling of packaging waste
One in three Germans are not sure how certain packaging ought to be recycled. The reason for this is often a lack of consumer knowledge. Many assume that, ultimately, everything will be incinerated. Proper recycling means that waste can be processed into raw materials. This means the consumption of natural resources such as mineral oil can be reduced. To better protect the environment, products must last longer and use resources more efficiently.
- Plastic waste belongs in the recycling bin. Each tonne of recyclate saves one tonne of carbon dioxide compared with plastic made from mineral oil.
- Packaging with UV coatings is particularly problematic for the recycling process. The coating penetrates deep into the paper fibres and cannot even be removed by deinking, the process used to remove printed colours from paper. This means the packaging must be disposed of in the residual waste bin. Laminated paper and film laminations also make it more difficult to recycle waste paper.
- Glass is separated in the glass container into the colours brown, green and white. Here care must be taken to especially separate heatproof glass, e.g. laboratory glass or the glass lids of cooking pots.
Packaging at Green IT Solution
When we ship our refurbished hardware, we take care to use packaging materials which are easy to separate and recycle. Our motto is “use as little as possible and as much as necessary”.
If available, we package the hardware in the manufacturer’s original packaging. If this is no longer possible, we package the products in retention packaging. Thin LDPE film holds the hardware in tightly in place, preventing it from slipping during transport. The transparent polyethylene film is 100% recyclable. Once the product has been unpacked, the film can be easily separated from the cardboard and disposed of in the recycling bin.