You may think of Germany as a recycling mecca – but the country is the number-one producer of packaging waste, and a top per capita trash producer in Europe. And curbing that is trickier than it seems.
Germans are known for their avid separation of trash and diligent recycling, reusing about half of their waste, but they also produce more packing waste than any other country in Europe. Packing waste has grown by 13% over the last decade in Germany, a global trend that has been fueled through profits for companies.
As companies move towards pre-portioned and smaller portioning, the amount of packing waste involved in products increases significantly. This caters to the increasing number of single households, and increases profit margins for companies.
One example of this phenomenon is the coffee capsule, using 16 times the packaging of coffee grounds and earning up to 4 times the profit margin. This example is multiplied throughout the German market, including products like single-use bottles, which are less expensive and easier to store.
Some companies have taken steps to reduce their packaging, such a Lidl rolling their toilet paper more tightly, reducing their packaging by 20%. Companies have also begun to charge for plastic bags, though some have banned them altogether. However, the paper alternatives that are perceived to be better for the environment aren’t- using more resources in production than plastic alternatives.
Some politicians in Germany are looking to create legislation to- rather than emphasize recycling- reduce the amount of packaging materials used in production in the first place. The legislation currently under consideration would also sanction companies using plastics that are more difficult to recycle, as well as ensure that reused plastic bottles are marked so that consumers can make more eco-friendly decisions.
Writer: Kiyo Dörrer