No trace of waste avoidance In Germany, more packaging is produced than ever before

No trace of waste avoidance In Germany, more packaging is produced than ever before

No trace of waste avoidance In Germany, more packaging is produced than ever before

Regardless of all commitments to avoiding waste, according to experts, plastic packaging will not disappear from everyday life in the foreseeable future. “I don’t think that plastics can be replaced quickly,” says Sven Sängerlaub, manager at the Fraunhofer Institute for Process Engineering and Packaging in Freising. “Plastic packaging has many advantages: It is very thin, light and has barrier properties.”

These are tangible pluses for industry and trade: “Barrier properties” mean that many plastics are impermeable to moisture or air. Glass, sheet metal and aluminum are “much thicker or require more energy to manufacture,” as Sängerlaub says. Nevertheless, these non-plastics would have advantages for many applications.

Both packaging production and the amount of packaging waste have increased since the beginning of the millennium. Not only do the needs of the economy play a role, the consumer behavior of citizens is also decisive. A growing number of single households means that more products are being offered in small packs more packaging for less content

“More and more convenience products are being offered in supermarkets that also have to be wrapped in plastic film, such as peeled bananas or lemons,” says Ulf Kelterborn, General Manager of the Plastic Packaging Industry Association.
The development can be read from bare figures: According to figures from the packaging industry, almost 4.4 million tons of plastic packaging were produced in 2017, almost 100,000 tons more than in the previous year. The high-profile push by many supermarket chains that have banned plastic bags does nothing to change this.

“There is a very rough rule of thumb according to which there are ten times more resources in a packaged food than in the packaging,” says Fraunhofer expert Sängerlaub. “If you have a piece of beef, the animal has to be raised and fed beforehand. There is so much energy in a piece of meat that you should definitely avoid throwing it away. “

The packaging industry argues that plastic packaging increases the shelf life of food thus reducing waste. “Unpackaged cucumbers dry out much faster,” says Kelterborn. “The proportion of cucumbers that are no longer edible and that would already be thrown away from the trade would be many times higher.”
Retail is a low-margin business, he says. “Packaging costs money, and accordingly no packaging is used that is not needed.” That is more a question of consumer behavior. “If consumers want a certain choice, you can’t do without packaging.”

From an environmental point of view, the longevity of packaging waste is a major problem. On the peaks of South Tyrol and Trentino, mountaineers come across rusty tin cans – a hundred-year-old legacy of the First World War, because there is no garbage disposal in the high mountains. Plastic waste decomposes even more slowly than sheet metal. According to estimates, the floating garbage carpet in the Pacific is now the size of Europe.

In addition, technical progress makes recycling more difficult. “There used to be simple cardboard packaging, today we have multilayer composite materials,” says Rolf Buschmann, an expert in technical environmental protection at the environmental organization. “They are so complex that their recyclability is in question. 52 percent of the packaging that ends up in the yellow sack is not recyclable. ”
Indeed: “PET from bottles is currently the only plastic that is used and approved in the EU for direct food contact after reprocessing,” says Frauenhofer expert Sängerlaub. “It is technically difficult to get plastics in with the current recycling process. Often there are residues of other packaging materials, sometimes also small amounts of leftover food.

Meanwhile, the EU is also putting pressure on the fight against plastic: It wants to ban cotton swabs, straws and disposable dishes. The federal government supports the proposal for a ban. “In Brussels, we will resolutely advocate a ban on superfluous single-use plastic,” said Environment Minister Svenja Schulze (SPD) to the editorial network in Germany. But science and industry are still a long way from the EU target of only using recyclable materials in packaging by 2030: “There is still a lot of research to be done in this area,” says Frauenhofer expert Sängerlaub.
He doesn’t believe in blaming citizens’ consumer behavior alone: ​​”Industry and trade have a responsibility to stop this madness,” says Buschmann. “We need incentives and pressure from politicians to push things in the right direction.”