Plastic is extremely versatile and durable, and offers perfect protection for our products. But it still has a bad image. We are simply throwing away too much plastic. How to avoid plastic is now being discussed at great length. The effects of plastic littering are also a hot topic. All of this is compelling policy-makers to take action. The most striking example is the ban on certain types of single-use plastic products starting in 2021 under the EU Single-Use Plastics Directive. The European Parliament approved this directive with a large majority in March 2019. These kinds of developments occasionally take a lot of time, but any decisions made in Brussels and Berlin subsequently have direct impacts on our market. Consequently, Der Grüne Punkt works to ensure that regulations benefit the environment, the economy, and consumers – for instance the German Packaging Act (VerpackG), which has provided powerful stimuli for the circular economy.
PACKAGING, ENVIRONMENT, FUTURE
The second international student congress, held in Berlin at the start of November 2018, was well attended. Discussions, workshops, and lectures were devoted to future issues, trends, and best practices in packaging design. Outside-the-box thinking was expressly permitted – and not only in the World Café. Fledgling packaging engineers, designers, and marketing experts held in-depth discussions with international experts and practitioners from companies, NGOs, and research institutes. We are now preparing to hold the third congress in 2019/2020.
As described at the outset, plastic has an image problem – especially when used in packaging. This problem can be solved by using recyclables responsibly and keeping them in the loop. We want to improve the quality and quantity of products in the recycled plastic market. Der Grüne Punkt is advancing new methods and application technologies, but that alone is not enough. The market also needs better framework conditions, as it will have to absorb much more recycled material than it does today in the future. On the one hand, the recycling target set by the German Packaging Act will increase sharply (see above illustration). The European Union is also introducing more ambitious recycling targets. On the other hand, plastic waste that used to be exported is now consequently available for recycling in Europe after Asian countries imposed import bans. High-quality recycled plastic from post-consumer collections that are also suitable for packaging currently costs around 30 percent more than virgin plastic. This is connected to persistently low oil prices, but also the fact that external costs are not internalized into the price of (virgin) plastics. For example, prices do not yet reflect the fact that recycled plastic makes greenhouse gas savings of up to 50 percent. In addition, no minimum quality standards exist to date for recycled plastic used in cosmetics or even food packaging. Consequently, manufacturers do not have the guarantees they need if they want to use these recyclables. Finally, paragraph 45 of the German Circular Economy Act requires that German federal authorities review the use of recycled materials when procuring new products (“green public procurement”). In practice, however, this has little meaning. Der Grüne Punkt is raising these issues with policy-makers and in stakeholder conversations and putting forth proposals for how to implement them in practice. Our goal is to drive forward the market for recycled materials.
A forward-looking project
LIFE PEPPCYCLE might become another milestone on the road to closing the loop for plastic packaging: The European Union has announced that it will fund this forward-looking project by Der Grüne Punkt. The project plans to build an industrial-scale facility for high-quality recycling of packaging waste from the yellow bag or yellow bin for lightweight packaging. This plant could produce approximately 36,000 tons of high-quality recycled material each year. These materials – principally high-density polyethylene (HDPE) and polypropylene (PP) – are ideal for making new packaging. All told, the industrial-scale plant will require investments of about €38 million over the next five years. Funding from the European Union’s LIFE program will cover €4.07 million of the project costs by 2022. A final decision has yet to be made about the location of the new pla