What To Do About Germany’s Packaging Explosion?

Date: 30 Aug 2017 | posted in: waste - recycling, Waste to Wealth | 0 Facebooktwitterredditmail

A business report from the German group Deutsche Welle paints a very confusing picture for those looking at Extended Producer Responsibility (EPR) for paper, packaging and products, or PPP, in US. Does EPR in Germany, the leader in EPR policy for the past three decades, work?

The original report from Deutsche Welle is available here.

According to a study by the Wuppertal Institute for Climate, Environment and Energy, Germans produce more packaging per capita (1.3 lbs. per day) than any other European country. Companies are actually making more money by using more packaging. Stephan Gabriel Haufe, German Environment Minister, announced that new packaging laws would provide stronger incentives to manufacturers to redesign and reduce packaging and better incentives for recovery of beverage containers.

Some companies can easily comply with new regulations as they have cut packaging by 20% on their own. What are we to make of this information? Apparently under the founding EPR system:

  • There has been no redesign of packaging.
  • There has been an increase in packaging.
  • There has been an increase in incineration capacity.
  • There has been a decline in refillable bottles and deposits.

The list is a fit, if not complete, summary of the critique of EPR – PPP in the US.

I am asking proponents of EPR –PPP in the US to please continue our dialogue by answering the questions posed by the Deutsch Welle assessment, I posed these questions to the CEO of Urban Ore, Dan Knapp. His responses are available below:

  1. Shut down the 200 or so German incinerators that compete unfairly with recycling for both disposal market share and for capital.  While you’re at it, shut down the 30 incinerators in Sweden that gobble up 50% of the discard supply there.  Sweden is where the current version of EPR came from.  Germany too, I suppose, but the USA’s Product Policy Institute went for the Swedish version when they brought EPR west to the USA about ten years ago.
  2. Build 12 category resource recovery parks everywhere there used to be a landfill.  This can supply the metals and other materials for the roads and bridges and train tracks that we need to rebuild.  
  3. Go back to market-based disposal services run by small businesses instead of the overly managed monopolistic top-down “markets” run by so-called nonprofits that EPR requires in order to make it work at all.  Reusers, recyclers, and composters all should be freed up and encouraged by government regulation to collect disposal service fees “as of right.”  
  4. And as for your last question, “Does EPR in Germany, the leader in EPR policy…work?” No, it doesn’t.  To the contrary.  The graphic below illustrates the consequences:  more packaging in 15 European countries with EPR, not less.  And yes, wasting more does impede economic growth, because it adds cost to everything.

If you want less packaging, come to the still relatively EPR-less USA, where a market-based approach to disposal services remains prominent and effective.

Photo Credit: Geralt via Pixabay (CC.0).

Follow the Institute for Local Self-Reliance on Twitter and Facebook and, for monthly updates on our work, sign-up for our ILSR general newsletter.

Avatar photo
Follow Neil Seldman:
Neil Seldman

Neil Seldman, Ph.D, directs the Waste to Wealth Initiative. He specializes in helping cities and businesses recover increasing amounts of materials from the waste stream and add value to the local economy through new processing and manufacturing facilities. He is a co-founder of the Institute for Local Self-Reliance.