Germany Has Recycling in the Bag
FRANKFURT/BAD HOMBURG, GERMANY—February 24, 2014—Consumption of plastic bags in Germany is low in comparison with the rest of Europe. Moreover, bags are often used again and disposed of in an environmentally friendly manner. This has been confirmed in a study by GVM, the German Society for Packaging Market Research, on occasion of a congress of the Federal environment agency UBA. The study was commissioned by IK (German Association for Plastic Packaging and Films), BKV (Platform for Plastics and Recovery) and HDE (German Retail Association).
In 2012, 6 billion plastic carrier bags were put in circulation in Germany. This corresponds to a total volume of 86 kilotons or a consumption of 76 carrier bags per inhabitant per year. According to the experts, these values are significantly lower than the average throughout Europe, where consumption reaches 198 pieces per inhabitant per year.
The study demonstrates that carrier bags make up a share of 3 percent in the consumption of plastic packaging, or 0.17 percent in the composition of municipal waste. In the view of GVM, the relevance of carrier bags to waste in Germany can therefore be considered limited. Furthermore, they argue, plastic bags in Germany are predominantly handled in a highly responsible manner. The study shows that 48 percent of all carrier bags are reusable and that 72 percent of end consumers use carrier bags a number of times. Only 11 percent of food and chemist’s products (FMCG) sold by retail are taken home by end consumers in plastic carrier bags that are used for the first time. Kai Falk, Director of HDE, stated, “The food trade made a point some decades ago already through its commitment to hand out carrier bags to end consumers against a fee only.” Moreover, many retailers offer their customers alternatives to plastic bags, such as carrier bags made of cotton or non-woven plastic material.
According to the GVM study, interventions suggested by the EU, such as prohibiting plastic carrier bags with a film thickness below 50>m, which include many carrier bags that are perfectly suitable for reuse, are not necessary and would not be constructive either. The experts fear customers would then simply move to carrier bags with a higher wall thickness. Also, plastic bags do not really have an impact on the pollution of landscapes or watercourses: in Germany, 99 percent of these are recycled. IK General Manager Jürgen Bruder commented, “The German system to collect and recycle packaging ensures that plastic carrier bags do not end up in the landscape but are sorted for mechanical recycling and energy recovery. Due to these perfectly functioning waste management structures, there is no need for action in Germany.”