DUSSELDORF, GERMANY — The cost of recycling retail plastic packaging in Germany already exceeds the cost of the plastic raw material used to make it.
Now, the country that pioneered package recycling legislation in 1991 may be preparing for even tougher restrictions.
The recent election of a coalition federal government that includes the Green Party could mean new amendments to Germany's Packaging Ordinance, according to Thomas Rummler, an official with the Ministry of Environment, Nature Conservation and Nuclear Safety in Bonn.
Rummler said his personal view was that he was sure the Packaging Ordinance would be ``on the table'' for the new government to act upon, and that it was possible that the law would get tougher.
One likely new program is called the ``Red Dot'' system. It could function like Germany's Green Dot, or Dual System, in which manufacturers pay a hefty fee to collect and recycle post-consumer packaging.
Rummler said manufacturers of packaging deemed by the government to be difficult to recycle would have to pay a fee to have a Red Dot appear on their product. The new program would apply to packaging such as a multilayer composite structure, ``which isn't economical to recycle,'' he said.
``The question is, should this packaging bear the same [fee] as recyclable packaging, or more? I don't think it should be less,'' he said.
Rummler, who heads the ministry's Division of Product Responsibility and Waste Avoidance, Recovery and Utilization, spoke Oct. 20 at Maack Business Service's Specialty Plastic Films '98 conference in DUsseldorf.
In 1991, the government passed the trailblazing Packaging Ordinance, which gave manufacturers financial responsibility to take back and reuse or recycle post-consumer packaging. At the end of 1994, the European Union followed with the European Packaging Directive, a regional law that adopted much of the German model.
Despite industry complaints, Rummler credited the Packaging Ordinance for doing what it was designed to accomplish — fixing the country's solid waste problem.
In 1991, Germany consumed 28.7 billion pounds of all kinds of packaging; in 1997 that fell to about 25.2 billion pounds. More specifically, retail packaging consumption has dropped from 15.4 billion pounds in 1993 to 14.9 billion pounds in 1997. In the same time frame, recycling of retail packaging has risen from 8.71 billion pounds to 12 billion pounds.
The law required 50 percent of
plastic retail packaging to be either recycled or incinerated with energy recovery by January 1996, rising to 60 percent by January 1998. Some 30 percent was mechanically recycled in 1996, and the figure should rise to 36 percent next year, he said.
Rummler said the law was needed because ``it was not the will of industry to take responsibility'' for its waste packaging.
The recycling system has been very expensive for industry. Participants in the Green Dot program, for example, now pay a recycling fee of about 80 cents per pound — in many cases more than the cost of the polymer, according to Joost Berting, corporate development manager for mergers, acquisitions, divestitures and strategic alliances at Eastman Chemical Co.'s European office in The Hague, the Netherlands.