1. GENERAL INFORMATION ABOUT THE DUAL SYSTEMS
1. What are the dual systems?
The dual systems in Germany organise the collection, sorting and recycling of used sales packaging for trade and industry across Germany in an effort to meet the legally prescribed recycling quotas. Trade and industry report the quantities of sales packaging they have put on the market by type of material and pay a participation fee (also known as a licence fee) to their dual system for the services they provide. There are currently nine dual systems organised by the private sector who provide this service together with their service providers from the waste disposal and recycling industry. The work of the dual systems is based on the German Packaging Act.
2. What is the basis of the work of the dual systems?
With the introduction of the Packaging Ordinance in 1991, trade and industry were obliged for the first time to take back and recycle their sales packaging. While initially the dual systems permitted alternatives to the collection, sorting and recycling of packaging, since 2009 it has been obligatory for distributors of sales packaging to participate in a dual system. On 1 January 2019 the new German Packaging Act replaced the Packaging Ordinance and now forms the new basis for the work of the dual systems. Compared with the Packaging Ordinance, the German Packaging Act sets significantly higher ecological standards for the collection, sorting and recycling of packaging waste as well as much higher recycling quotas.
3. How do the collection systems of the dual systems work?
The dual systems are responsible for the collection of used sales packaging throughout Germany. A distinction is made between pick-up and delivery systems. The most widespread collection system is the pick-up system, which means used packaging is collected directly from the private consumer’s home. These are essentially the old-paper bins (for paper/cardboard/carton) and the yellow bag or yellow bin (for all packaging except glass and paper/cardboard/carton).
As part of the delivery system, on the other hand, collection containers are set up for consumers near their homes. Most of these containers are for glass packaging, but some are also for paper packaging. In some cases, packaging that is usually collected in the yellow bag or yellow bin is also collected in such containers as part of the delivery system. Certain regions still have recycling centres where packaging can be handed in as well as a variety of other waste, such as bulky waste, electrical and electronic devices, leftover paint etc. Under the German Packaging Act, it is the local authorities that decide which type of collection containers are used and how often they are emptied. However, the ultimate responsibility for organising and financing the collection, sorting and recycling of packaging lies with the dual systems.
4. What does the German Packaging Act say?
All manufacturers and retailers (online and brick-and-mortar) as well as importers and foreign exporters who put goods packaged in Germany on the market must participate in a dual system. To “participate” means to enter into a contract with a dual system, report the quantities of packaging placed on the market and pay for the collection, sorting and recycling of the packaging. The manufacturers are responsible for their product packaging and retailers in general for their own brand packaging, and the online retailers, for example, are also responsible for their shipping packaging.
The dual systems along with their service providers from the waste disposal and recycling industry carry out the collection, sorting and recycling of used packaging and ensure that the recycling quotas under the German Packaging Act are met. The dual systems must document and verify all processes and, via a certified mass flow verifier, submit them to the verifying authority.
All manufacturers and retailers (online and brick-and-mortar) as well as importers and foreign exporters who put goods packaged in Germany on the market must register with the Central Agency Packaging Register. To “register” means they must personally enter their company name, product brands and contact details there. A list of all registered companies is published online, which means anyone can check to make sure that a company that places packaging on the market complies with its legal obligations. The companies must also report the quantities of sales packaging they have put into circulation and indicate which dual system they are participating in.
Companies that do not participate in a dual system and/or do not register their packaging with the Central Agency may not distribute their products and face heavy fines.
5. How are the dual systems financed?
All manufacturers and retailers (online and brick-and-mortar) as well as importers and foreign exporters who put goods packaged in Germany on the market must participate in a dual system; they pay a participation fee (also known as a licence fee) to their dual system for the collection, sorting and recycling of their packaging. These fees are generally included in the product price. This means that the consumer also pays for the disposal and recycling service when purchasing the packaged goods. The amount to be paid depends on the weight and material of the packaging.
The dual systems mainly use their income to pay the waste disposal companies for the collection, sorting and recycling services they provide, the municipalities for the cleaning of the container stand space and for waste advice, the Central Agency for their registration, testing and inspection services and the providers of the nationwide dual systems information campaign for consumers. The income also has to cover the dual systems’ staff and ancillary costs.
6. What can the German public do to contribute?
The collection and sorting behaviour of the general public is key for recycling to be successful. Because only if we collect and correctly separate as much packaging as possible is it possible to reduce CO2 emissions.
Used and completely empty packaging must never be placed in the non-recyclable waste. Because it then gets incinerated and can no longer be recycled. The reverse is also true: Non-recyclable waste must not end up in the containers for used packaging (yellow bin/yellow bag, old-paper bin or glass container). Non-recyclable waste has a highly negative impact on the recycling of the collected and correctly separated packaging, or makes it impossible in some cases.
7. What are the objectives of the information campaign of the dual systems “Waste separation works”?
First of all, the aim of the information campaign is to reduce the amount of waste (e.g. non-recyclable waste) incorrectly placed in the yellow bags/yellow bins and thus to improve the quality of the collected waste. Secondly, the campaign aims to increase the amount of waste collected in the yellow bag/bin. Because far too much packaging still ends up in the non-recyclable waste, which means it cannot be recycled.
The information campaign is therefore designed to dispel misconceptions and to inform private consumers about the purpose of separate waste collection and to offer encouragement. The public must recognise the key role it plays in the recycling of packaging. Because only if the public collects packaging correctly and separates it from non-recyclable waste can recyclable materials be kept in circulation and resources and CO2 emissions saved.
2. WASTE SEPARATION AND DISPOSAL
8. Why should I separate waste?
Remember, only recyclable materials from packaging collected in the yellow bag/yellow bin or in glass and old-paper containers stay in the recycling cycle. Most things that end up in the non-recyclable waste are incinerated and are forever lost to the materials cycle.
9. Can’t modern machines separate the waste?
Modern sorting plants are designed to sort light packaging. Household waste on the sorting belts that is mixed with wet organic waste is more difficult to sort. What is more, dirt significantly reduces the recyclability of the materials. There have been repeated attempts in the past to collect non-recyclable waste and sales packaging together in one bin and to separate them in the sorting plant. Unfortunately, the result was not satisfactory. The often-moist non-recyclable waste (such as kitchen waste, food leftovers, tea bags, coffee filters) contaminates the packaging waste too much. This has a negative effect on the recyclability of sales packaging and greatly reduces the quality of the resulting secondary raw materials.
10. Would it not make sense to burn the waste instead of going to all the effort of sorting it?
The waste incineration plants in Germany generally offer an efficient and safe way to dispose of non-recyclable waste. However, they are not an alternative to the high-quality recycling of packaging. In contrast to waste incineration, every kilogram of plastic packaging that consumers place in the yellow bag or yellow bin reduces harmful CO2 emissions and thus decreases environmental damage and saves valuable raw materials for future generations.
11. Where is the best place to dispose of waste?
The most important thing about recycling is clean waste separation carried out by the public. This makes a considerable contribution to recycling. Separate collection containers for the following types of waste are usually available near people’s homes: so-called lightweight packaging (LWP), which includes sales packaging made of plastic, aluminium, tinplate and composites, packaging waste made of paper/cardboard/carton and glass, as well as non-recyclable waste and organic waste.
12. Which collection containers are available?
- Grey bin: non-recyclable waste
- Yellow bag/yellow bin: lightweight packaging made of plastic, aluminium, tinplate or composites such as drinks cartons (in some regions recycling bins or recycling centres instead)
- Old-paper bin: paper/cardboard/carton
- Glass collection container: container glass and bottles
- Organic waste bin: organic waste
For more information about correct waste separation, see our separation tables.
13. Where does my packaging waste go?
What goes into the paper bin, what in the glass container, and what in the yellow bag or yellow bin? Practical waste separation aids for packaging waste are available for download. Please note that there are some regional differences. If you have a recycling bin instead of a yellow bin, for example, you can usually also place non-packaging waste of the same material in that bin, such as old plastic toys or frying pans. In some regions, people are required to take their packaging waste to recycling centres. If in doubt, please contact the responsible local authority or the responsible waste disposal company.
14. What is the recycling bin? Why is it for more than just packaging?
They already exist in many cities and rural districts in Germany, such as in Berlin, Hamburg, Cologne, Münster and Duisburg and in rural districts including Paderborn, the Rhein-Sieg district and Gelsenkirchen. The recycling bin! It’s for packaging as well as non-packaging made of the same material. In other words, it’s for plastic and metal, whether it was once packaging or not. The important thing is that it fits in the bin in one piece. Which means you can place your old frying pans, mixing bowls, plastic toys etc. in this bin.
Incidentally, the recycling bin is always financed jointly with the cities and rural districts.
This gives all objects made of plastic and metal the chance of a second life in the material cycle.
3. WASTE UTILISATION / Recycling
15. Why does packaging get recycled?
Each year, around 60 percent more resources are taken from the earth than can be naturally regenerated within the same period. The reuse of valuable materials is therefore an important task of humankind and resources previously used just once have to become part of the recycling economy. The recycling of packaging plays an important part in this.
And recycling also protects the climate: the collecting and recycling of packaging by the dual systems in Germany is an important contribution to climate protection. The recycling of packaging saves more than 3.1 million tonnes of CO2 .
16. What happens to the different types of waste?
The recyclability and potential uses of recovered waste depends on the source material:
- metals such as aluminium and tinplate are melted down and made into screw caps or cans and tins, for example. Recovered metal can also be found in car bodies, fridges and other steel products.
- Used glass is melted separately by colour in the glass factories and made into new glass packaging.
- Old paper or cardboard packaging such as bakery bags, biscuit boxes and shipping cartons serve as raw material in the manufacture of new paper products, such as newsprint paper and shipping cartons. Special sorting plants first separate the material into paper, cardboard and carton. A recycling plant then defibres the paper and mixes it with water. The fibre pulp is washed, pressed, dried and then processed into new paper for printing, toilet tissue and carton.
- Plastics are sorted by type (e.g. polyethylene (PE), polypropylene (PP) or polyethylene terephthalate (PET)) and reprocessed into plastic granulate of the same type using special formulae. These recyclates from used plastic packaging are used in many production plants today and are turned into packaging, pipes, household items, storage and transport boxes, fleece fabrics, car parts and much more.
- Composite materials such as drinks cartons and multilayer films are recycled as much as possible based on the main material. The paper fibres from drinks cartons, for example, are recycled with paper and the aluminium and plastic it contains are used as additives in the cement industry.
17. What happens to the organic waste?
Organic waste is turned into compost or biogas. Compost made from organic waste stabilises and improves the humus content and valuable functions of our agricultural soils. Compost goes some way towards making peat superfluous and its nutrients have a positive effect on plants and the environment in general. What’s more, compost also reduces the emission of harmful greenhouse gases. Many organic waste treatment plants turn organic waste into real bioenergy in the form of biogas. This in turn is used to generate electricity. The bioelectricity thus comes directly from the organic waste bin and can be used in households and as fuel for electric vehicles.
18. What happens to the non-recyclable waste?
In Germany, non-recyclable waste has to be treated before it goes to the landfill. This is mainly achieved through upstream energy recovery. The remnants of incineration, so-called slag, can be used for road construction, for example, or they are deposited in landfills. In Germany, the local authorities organise the collection of non-recyclable waste.
4. PACKAGING WASTE AND HOW TO AVOID IT
19. Why is the volume of plastic waste, especially in the packaging sector, continuing to rise so steeply in Germany?
There are many reasons for this. The main one is new consumer trends, such as a significant increase in out-of-home eating and online shopping. The increasing number of single households and stricter hygiene regulations also contribute to this.
20. What is the legislator doing to ensure more plastic waste is recycled?
The new German Packaging Act came into force on 1 January 2019, which stipulates significantly higher recycling quotas:
|Pertaining to participation quantity1):||Quota until 12/2018||Quota from 12/2019||Quota from 12/2022|
|Paper, cardboard, carton||70%||85%||90%|
|Plastic (material recycling)2)||36%||58.5%||63%|
|Other composite packaging||60%||55%||70%|
|New additional recycling quota in relation to the amount collected from 2019|
|Amount collected in yellow bag/yellow bin||—||50%||50%|
- Total packaging reported to the dual systems
- Recycling through processes in
which virgin material of the same type is replaced or the material
continues to be available for further material use
Furthermore, the dual systems are required by law to offer more low-cost participation prices for recycling-friendly packaging. This is designed to encourage retailers and manufacturers to make their packaging more recycling-friendly. Since the coming into force of the packaging disposal regulation, more packaging has meant higher disposal costs, which provides an economic incentive to reduce packaging.
21. How much more plastic will be kept in circulation in the future as a result of our measures?
The higher recycling quotas alone will ensure that significantly more plastic packaging will have to be collected, sorted and recycled. According to estimates, in 2022 up to 600,000 tonnes of additional plastic packaging will be1 recycled than today.
The increase in the amount of plastic packaging to 600,000 t results from the difference between the current licence quantity taking into account the material recycling quota under the Packaging Ordinance of 36% (approx. 360,000 t) and the development of the market quantity estimated by GVM in combination with the material recycling quota according to the Packaging Ordinance of 63% from 2022
(approx. 994,000 tonnes).
22. Why isn’t there more compostable packaging?
Biodegradable (“compostable”) packaging is not a viable alternative. The term “compostable” plastic packaging is misleading, since following biodegradation there is virtually no compost left to be utilised. Such plastic only decomposes, and it only does so under certain optimal process engineering conditions, for example in large-scale composting plants, and even there it often does not decompose fully. According to the Federal Environment Ministry, the possibility of plastic residues being released into the environment with the organic waste compost cannot yet be ruled out. Outside of such large-scale plants, it is even harder for these plastics to decompose, if they decompose at all – such as in-home composting. The term “biodegradable” can therefore cause waste to be dealt with carelessly and result in fly-tipping.
5. USE AND PRODUCTION OF RECYCLATES (=recovered plastics)
23. How much recyclate is currently produces/used? In which products are recyclates used?
According to current economic surveys3) , some 14.4 million tonnes of plastic were processed in Germany in 2017. 1.8 million tonnes, about 12 percent, of this was recyclate. Most of these recyclates were used in products in the construction industry (about 43 percent) and the packaging industry (approx. 23 percent).
3)cf. the Conversio study “Stoffstrombild Kunststoffe in Deutschland 2017”. The main basis for calculating the quantity of recyclates is consumer packaging from the collection, sorting and recycling carried out by the dual systems as well as films from the transport and industrial sectors and the recycling of PET bottles.
24. How can the use of recyclates be increased?
High recycling rates are an essential requirement for the preservation of plastic as a material. However, the recycled raw materials must also be in demand and used in production. The German Packaging Act therefore obliges the dual systems to give manufacturers an incentive to use recycled plastics. A number of initiatives by manufacturers/retailers and policy-makers to promote the use of recycled material are already in place; they will hopefully provide the necessary incentives. The dual systems are already in discussion with recycling companies, manufacturers and distributors about how to remove barriers and promote the use of recycled materials.
25. Are biodegradable plastics easy to recycle?
The recycling of biodegradable plastics is still to be viewed critically. Because they only constitute a marginal amount of the overall plastic waste, the automatic identification and sorting of these polymers is currently not economically viable. However, despite the low proportion of these plastics of the overall plastic used, their biological instability can have a negative impact on the quality of stable recyclates.