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    Flood of packaging shocks German environmental aid

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    Supermarkets and discounters
    Flood of packaging shocks German environmental aid

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    “Unnecessary amounts of disposables, too much plastic and garbage,” is the verdict of German Environmental Aid after a look at supermarket shelves in the Federal Republic. In order not to worsen the plastic crisis even further, plastic waste must be at least halved by 2027. Three discounters are particularly criticized.

    Trios of peppers in plastic, cardboard boxes around toothpaste tubes and almost no packaging with a deposit in the milk aisle – shopping at the supermarket or discount store quickly results in a lot of packaging waste at home. Is this due to consumer choices? No, says German Environmental Aid – according to the lobby association, far too many goods are still offered in packaging and disposable containers. In a “packaging check,” the association gave almost all bad reviews to supermarkets and discounters. Only three biochains tested came away with a good rating.

    According to Environmental Aid, five of the chains examined did not offer reusable packaging for milk and yoghurt products; in another store the rate was 97 percent. During the first check, the DUH came to the same conclusion at the beginning of 2022. The proportion of packaged fruit and vegetables has tended to fall somewhat, but only by a few percentage points.

    The criticism was particularly harsh against Aldi Nord and Süd as well as Lidl: At the three discounters, the DUH found no reusable packaging either in the milk shelf or in the beverage range – at the beginning of 2022 it looked the same. Aldi Süd announced that the use of reusable bottles in the beverage sector will be tested next year. Aldi Nord and Süd also stated that a total of 40 percent of fruit and vegetable items should be offered unpackaged by the end of 2025. This is currently the case for a third of the items in the product group. “As part of our packaging strategy, we are also committed to continually increasing the use of recycled plastic,” it said.

    Deposit is not the same as reusable

    “Our test visits show an unnecessary amount of disposable packaging, too much plastic and garbage. Even robust standard products such as carrots, apples or peppers are more often offered in disposable packaging than unpackaged,” said DUH Federal Managing Director Barbara Metz about the results. “If we don't want to worsen the plastic crisis even further, we need packaging waste to be halved by 2027 and an additional single-use tax of at least 20 cents on single-use plastic bottles, cans and beverage cartons.”

    As a reminder: Not all deposit bottles can be viewed as reusable goods. For example, bottles that are crushed by the return machines and later cut up and recycled belong to the disposable category. With reusable packaging, the container is usually just cleaned and then refilled.

    More than 225 kilograms of packaging waste per person per year

    Packaging waste has tended to increase in Germany in recent years. According to the Federal Environment Ministry, around 18.8 million tons of packaging waste was generated in 2020 – compared to 16 million tons ten years earlier. Calculated per capita, every person in Germany uses 225.8 kilograms of packaging. More than 8.3 million tons of total packaging waste in Germany is paper, cardboard and cardboard. Around 3.22 million tons of plastic waste was generated in 2020, and more than 3 million tons of glass waste. The development in aluminum from 90,600 tons in 2010 to almost 140,000 tons in 2020 is particularly striking.

    “The proportion of one- and two-person households as well as seniors is increasing. Both result in smaller filling sizes and/or pre-portioned units being purchased, which in turn has an increasing effect on packaging consumption,” writes the Federal Environment Agency online about the increase in packaging waste. In addition, eating and consumption habits have changed. Fast food, to-go products and ready meals are still very popular.

    In its report, the DUH assumes that the sustainability of the products is an important purchasing argument for many customers. “However, in order to be able to make a decision in the interest of the environment, you need the appropriate offer in the food retail sector,” it says. Unpackaged stores are increasingly offering the opportunity to shop without packaging waste, especially in cities, but their market share is still rather small.

    Probably not a trend reversal through the packaging law

    The HDE trade association announced that the food trade is already actively committed to reducing packaging waste. “For example, all major food retailers have introduced reusable nets in the fruit and vegetable sector in order to reduce the amount of very light bags. The reduction in material in own-brand packaging through thinner-walled milk packaging or beverage bottles also contributes to less packaging being in circulation,” said Antje Gerstein , HDE Managing Director European Policy and Sustainability, according to the announcement. In addition, the collection system for disposable beverage packaging subject to a deposit is very effective.

    A new packaging law has been in force since January, according to which many restaurateurs have to offer reusable packaging for take-away food. But things aren't going smoothly yet: it wasn't until mid-May that Federal Environment Minister Steffi Lemke called for stricter controls. “The restaurateurs are asked to fulfill their legal reusable obligation, and municipalities and states should monitor things much better,” she told “Bild am Sonntag” at the time.

    The figures for packaging waste do not include the many foods that also end up in the trash can – in Germany this was recently around 11 million tons per year. Almost 60 percent of this waste occurs in private households – that corresponds to almost 80 kilograms per person per year.

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