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On 30 March 2017, the German government passed the country’s first ever law to focus entirely on recycling and preventing packaging waste: the Packaging Law. This had been preceded by twelve months of heated discussions on what would be the best option to increase recycling and protect the environment. Whilst many would have preferred a recyclables law, the new law is effectively a compromise for the recycling sector, the packaging industry and the environment.
The new German Packaging Law, which will come into full force on 01 January 2019, is a first statutory step to be taken by the German government to ensure that the environment will not suffer from the rising rates of consumption in Germany. What is significant here is that, for the first time, the legislator has stipulated in concrete terms that producers are also responsible for making sure that levels of recycling increase and that less waste is produced. This means, for example, that packaging producers must use recycled raw materials to manufacture their products wherever possible and maximise the recyclability of their packaging. The fundamental idea of producer responsibility has, therefore, been set out in law for the first time. If raw materials are to be recovered for re-use, it is vital that this responsibility is placed on all producers across all industries, including for example automotive suppliers. As far as the recycling industry is concerned, there are three further important changes besides these environmental requirements for packaging producers: firstly, new monitoring and organisational structures are to be set up for licensing packaging which aim to strengthen competition and create fair framework conditions; secondly, the new law sets much higher recycling rates; and thirdly, local authorities now have a say on the conditions set out in individual tenders.
The so-called ‘Zentrale Stelle’ or central office was set up in June and was one of the first changes to be implemented. The ‘Zentrale Stelle’ foundation is being financed by the system’s operators and operators of industry-specific schemes and is made up of representatives of different companies operating within the sector. All in all, this foundation is responsible for fulfilling 31 specific tasks which include ensuring all producers and distributors of packaging have registered, checking the ‘Vollständigkeitserklärung’ [declaration of completeness] and the ‘Mengenstromnachweis’ [record of volumes], determining market share and, to a certain extent, making sure the system is properly enforced. Producers must now also register packaging that accumulates at private consumers if they wish to sell such products.
In the future, the so-called dual systems, which collect licensed packaging and are financed by industrial and commercial businesses, must considerably increase their recycling rates and be able to provide proof of this. The recycling rate for plastic packaging, for example, must increase from the current 36% to 63% by 2022. Recycling rates for packaging made of metal, glass and paper must have risen to 90% by 2022. The dual systems must adjust their licence fees accordingly to promote more environmentally friendly packaging. The efforts made by producers to reduce waste or to use reusable packaging should be rewarded with lower prices. In the future, there should be clear labelling on the products to encourage private consumers to buy, for example, reusable rather than disposable drinks packaging in order to increase the use of reusable packaging to 70% over the long term.
In the future, local authorities will have the right to instruct the dual systems how collections should be carried out in their districts. This may, for example, include the type of collection scheme, which type of bin should be used or how often the bins should be emptied. It is also up to the local authorities whether they wish to have a recyclables bin rather than a packaging bin in their region. However, the conditions stipulated by the councils must be economically and technically feasible for the dual systems and must not demand a higher quality of service than the local authorities expect of their own bin collections.
“This is an important signal from the German government and a decision that certainly gives us the security we need to make future investments.”
Herwart Wilms, REMONDIS Managing Director
"Finally a decision has been reached following the months of discussions of whether there should be a recyclables or packaging law. This is an important signal from the German government and a decision that certainly gives us the security we need to make future investments,” commented Herwart Wilms, REMONDIS managing director. Federal Minister of the Environment Barbara Hendricks sees the law as being a victory for common sense and Peter Kurth, president of the BDE (Federal Association of the German Waste Management Industry), hopes the new recycling targets will provide just the momentum that the industry needs. All in all, the recycling sector sees the new German Packaging Law as being no more than a compromise. Having tried for years to persuade the Government to introduce a recyclables law, the packaging law has not caused them to break out into loud cheers. Everyone agrees that they should not lose sight of their overall aim as there are still volumes of recyclable waste that have not yet been tapped into, stressed Herwart Wilms.
The recycling sector does not intend to lose sight of the volumes of recyclable waste that have yet to be tapped into.
As far as the recycling sector is concerned, it will be the central office that will ensure there is fair competition in the future – although here, too, there are still two weak points: it may prove difficult to carry out completely independent reviews with this central office being made up primarily of representatives of the packaging industry. Moreover, all enforcement tasks should be divided up clearly between the enforcement agencies, such as foundations, state authorities etc, to make sure that the German Packaging Law is implemented successfully.
EKO-PUNKT offers licensing solutions for all types of packaging materials. These include transport packaging, grouped packaging, filling material containing hazardous substances