The new figures, published on Thursday by the Federal Environment Agency (UBA), soar high above the European average of 167.3 kilos per capita, which was disheartening news for UBA President, Maria Krautzberger.
“We produce far too much packaging waste – an unfortunate first place in Europe,” said Krautzberger. “Most of all we have to reduce waste, possibly even in the production phase by avoiding unnecessary packaging.”
The UBA announced that Germany accumulated 18.6 million tonnes of packaging waste in 2016, marking a 0.05% increase from the previous year.
The main culprits of packaging waste are private consumers, who generate nearly half of the waste, from eating out of single-use takeaway containers to drinking from disposable plastic cups.
The UBA found that plastic use decreased marginally per person from 2015-16. However, Krautzberger cautioned against seeing this as an optimistic sign, as consumes seem to have substituted plastic packaging for glass and aluminum, which she said can be energy-intensive to manufacture.
“Replacing plastic with other packaging materials is not always ecologically sensible,” Krautzberger warned.
More than 70 percent of packaging waste was recycled in 2016. However, recycling practices differed significantly from material to material. For example, glass, aluminum, and paper and cardboard achieved percentages in the high 80s, whereas only 49.7 percent of plastic and 26 percent of wood was recycled.
From 2019 onwards, a new packaging law will impose higher quotas on German companies responsible for packaging recycling. The fee, which manufacturers must pay for their packaging, will also change depending on how easily or difficult the packaging can be recycled.
In its report, the UBA drew attention to packages containing magnets. It acknowledged that they are uncommon, but still an interesting matter in terms of raw materials because magnets contains neodymium. A rare earth, neodymium, releases radioactive thorium and uranium and features in magnets on resealable chocolate and cigarette packets.
According to the UBA, about 4.5 tonnes of neodymium magnets were found in packaging waste last year. So far, there are no attempts to recover neodymium from recycled packaging, which means this rare metal goes untapped.