Is it profitable to recycle garbage?

Waste recycling The barriers to plastic recycling

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Germany is the world champion in recycling packaging. But we also occupy a top position worldwide in terms of consumption - and not just since the Corona crisis. Effective recycling is therefore all the more important, but not easy.

As of: 09/30/2020

Again and again, the vast amounts of plastic waste that we produce make headlines - how it pollutes our seas, endangers animals and nature and we don't seem to be able to control them. The concern about our plastic waste is not entirely unfounded: In Germany, for example, the consumption of packaging has increased by 100 percent over the past 20 years. And there are also numerous hurdles when it comes to recycling.

Packaging Act: No ban on non-recyclable plastic waste

The Packaging Act, which came into force in 2019, calls for packaging waste to be avoided and more packaging to be made from recycled material, so-called recyclate. A fixed recycling quota is also anchored in it: From 2022, 63 percent of all plastic waste will have to be recycled. It is currently 58.5 percent. What is missing in the law, however, is a ban on plastic packaging, including non-recyclable packaging. According to the law, there should be an incentive for the so-called "distributors" of plastic products: The fees that they have to pay companies for disposal should be created in such a way that more recycling is worthwhile for them.

Different types of plastic are difficult to sort

Even so, recycling plastic is difficult. One reason for this is the great variety of plastics. This can be seen, for example, in vacuum packaging, which is primarily intended to keep fish and meat fresh for longer. They contain an oxygen barrier made of polyamide, which is inextricably linked to the plastic from which the rest of the packaging is made. The problem: The two types of plastic cannot be sorted in the waste facility and thus cannot be recycled into new plastic.

Recycling of plastic is not very profitable for manufacturers

However, it is not just technically difficult to recycle plastics. Recycling must also be financially worthwhile for the manufacturer. This is not always the case at the moment. Because the plastic made from waste is still more expensive than plastic made from petroleum.

Products made from recycled plastic: Lack of customer acceptance

But customer acceptance for products made from recycled plastic is not always there either.

"Many believe: Recycled content = poor quality. Many think that if the recycled content were shown, the price would have to go down. That is why many [manufacturers] don't do that."

Thomas Probst, Federal Association of Secondary Raw Materials and Disposal.

Despite all the hurdles in recycling, there are also some successes: On average, beverage bottles made of PET are made from 29 percent, sometimes even up to 100 percent, from recycled material. In 2019, a cleaning agent manufacturer even received the German Environment Prize for the use of old plastic for the packaging of its products.

The "Round Table Eco Design for Plastic Packaging", which was launched a few years ago, also gives rise to hope. Packaging manufacturers and recyclers talk to each other for the first time. This has advantages. The other side learns to understand the various aspects and can respond to them Franziska Krüger from the Federal Environment Agency in Dessau-Roßlau says that it is possible to clarify what information the other person needs in order to "adjust" Recycling becomes possible.

Tips for consumers on how to properly recycle plastic

Sebastian Baumeister, operations manager of the sorting plant at the service company Wurzer, gives consumers the following advice on how to use plastic in the most environmentally friendly way possible:

  • Generally tear off the lid, regardless of the product
  • Do not wash yoghurt pots and the like
  • do not throw other rubbish between the packaging

Despite all the progress, recycling is only the second best solution. It is even better to avoid single-use packaging