Do you think people should recycle newspapers?

Here's what you should know about recycling

As a higher authority, politics must create incentives and make recycling more attractive for everyone involved. The industry must also be held accountable for ensuring that products are produced using sustainable, easily recyclable products. Ultimately, the end consumer can help with his consumption behavior and with waste separation to further increase the recycling rate of packaging.

Politics: already has stricter recycling quotas

On January 1, 2019, the new Packaging Act came into force, which sets significantly higher rates for the recycling of packaging, especially for plastic packaging: since 2019, 58.5 percent of plastic waste must be recycled, and from 2022 even 63 percent. As a reminder, in 2018 we achieved a rate of 47 percent.

In addition, the European Commission has changed the calculation of the recycling quota: It is no longer calculated based on what arrives at the recycling plant, but rather on what is actually recycled in the end. "In this respect, the 63 percent are a decent step forward, which will also mean that we have to improve the measures to get to the plastics again," says Jochen Flasbarth, State Secretary in the Federal Ministry for the Environment, Nature Conservation and Nuclear Safety (BMU ).

In addition, a new financing instrument will apply at EU level from January 1, 2021: Since then, the membership fee of the EU states has been based, among other things, on the proportion of non-recycled plastic waste. "This will also motivate the member states to implement appropriate policies that reduce the amount of non-recycled plastic waste," stressed Secretary of State for the Environment Flasbarth.

In addition to the already decided increase in a recycling quota, a recyclate quota for plastic products is also being discussed. This is intended to stipulate that plastic packaging, for example, be made with a minimum proportion of recycled material. "You have to get to the point that the non-use of recyclates has to be justified," says Eric Rehbock from the Federal Association for Secondary Raw Materials and Disposal at the Committee for the Environment, Nature Conservation and Nuclear Safety in 2019. At the same time, however, the hurdles for the use of recyclates must be lowered, emphasizes Roebuck. For example, the requirements for the shelf life of plastic packaging should be reduced.

Industry: must manufacture recyclable products

In the case of food packaging in particular, manufacturers have to adhere to certain minimum standards such as shelf life and health compatibility. However, they also have a certain leeway. By designing the packaging, you can directly influence how well a product is recyclable or not.

Products should for example If possible, consist of one type of plastic. Because multi-layer plastics can hardly be separated from each other in the recycling process. One example is multi-layer films in which meat is shrink-wrapped in the refrigerated counter. They are sorted out directly by the recycling plants and are incinerated. “These films usually have five to eleven layers. However, three shifts would be enough to meet the minimum requirements for food packaging and to facilitate the recycling process, ”says Thomas Probst, plastics recycling expert from the Federal Association for Secondary Raw Materials and Disposal.

Another example are yoghurt pots or margarine bowls with paper coatings. “The consumer hardly recognizes that a thin layer of paper has been applied to the plastic packaging,” explains Probst. This layer only gives the plastic packaging a nicer feel. The problem: The paper is applied directly to the hot plastic and can no longer be separated from it in the recycling process. "The paper fibers have an extremely negative effect on the quality of the recyclate," says the recycling expert.

The choice of color also plays an important role in recycling: light-colored or colorless plastics are better than brightly colored and dark ones. The latter turns into gray recycled plastic, which can only be colored darker during further processing. The possible uses for such recyclates are very limited. Although beverage bottles made from the plastic PET can actually be recycled very well, brown PET beer bottles, for example, are problematic because of their color. By the way, black plastic is not even recognized by the infrared scanners in the sorting systems. Black shower gels, for example, cannot therefore be separated according to their type of plastic. They usually fall straight out of the recycling process and are incinerated.

The good news: Since 2019, the Packaging Act has also placed demands on manufacturers that specifically target product design. The easier it is to recycle packaging, the lower the financial contribution that manufacturers have to pay by law for the disposal of packaging.

Consumers: Waste separation remains the be-all and end-all

Everything that ends up in the residual waste is mostly incinerated or ends up in landfills. The better consumers separate their waste, the more of it can ultimately be recycled. Because the fact is: whether plastic, glass, aluminum or paper - only recyclable materials that are collected separately are ultimately recycled.

Ultimately, consumers can also ensure that they are buying products that are packaged in a recycling-friendly manner. An example are sun creams: These are available with and without a spray attachment. This is already energy and resource intensive during production. And when recycling, the spray head first has to be dismantled into all of its individual parts.