New EU rules are not enough – the recycling industry and eco-designers need to work together!
Today, the EU presented its new rules on plastic packaging, according to which all packaging should be made recyclable. Up to now, we Germans have been considered the world champions in recycling. Sounds great, doesn’t it?! But is it true? Maybe it’s true that we are among world leaders in terms of the amount of recycled materials. But this tells us nothing about the quality of upcycling!
Plastic packaging does not have the best reputation, although we use it daily and more and more food and other goods are packaged in plastic. At least they perform important hygiene functions and protect energy-intensively produced food from premature deterioration. Many consumers have already developed an awareness of resource-friendly consumption. They forego packaging, creams containing microbeads, takeaway coffee cups and consciously use environmentally friendlier reusable packaging and do so in an attempt to prevent the contamination of the seas with plastic waste.
The other thing is including plastic packaging in an upcycling process so that they come to represent a usable raw material for new plastic products after use. A large proportion of plastic packaging can only be recycled with a loss of quality – if they are recycled at all. Moreover, around half of plastic packaging used in Germany does not undergo high-quality recycling. This half is generally burned to generate energy. The reason for this: The cost of high-quality recycling is still too high and therefore still too expensive. Costs arise if different plastics are stuck together and cannot be separated or the plastic is vaporised with aluminium or combined with paper. Lots of colour and firmly affixed labels made from a different material to the packaging itself prevent plastics from being fed into a meaningful material cycle. These examples show that packaging should be developed with upcycling in mind in the future. Cradle to Cradle represents one idea for this.
So, what we need are packaging designers who consistently rethink in cycles. We need eco-designers whose priority when designing is the recycling capability of packaging. However, retailers who order packaging for their products must also order appropriately. There are initial signs of large retail chains discovering sustainable packaging as a “gap in the market”. Now, they need the appropriate information to make it possible from a technical point of view. So, the recycling industry should get around a table with the packaging industry and exchange knowledge. Pressure from environmentally conscious consumers is also leading industry and politicians to make their promises reality.
The Waste Economy Conference could be a platform for exchange.